OLD MASSETT, B.C. - A large tug boat arrived Saturday night to hook onto a Russian cargo ship adrift off the British Columbia coast, calming fears that the ship might drift ashore and cause an environmental disaster.
Lt. Paul Pendergast of the Canadian Forces' Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre said the Barbara Foss arrived shortly after 5 p.m. local time, and was securing a line to the Simushir.
"When they get the vessel under tow, they'll first head in a northwesterly direction and get it further from the coastline and eventually into more sheltered waters to the north of Haida Gwaii," Pendergast said. "Then a decision will be made on where to take it."
The ship was adrift again for several hours Saturday after a tow line tethering the vessel to a Canadian Coast Guard ship snapped.
Lt. Greg Menzies of the rescue co-ordination centre said earlier that the crew members were in no danger.
"Right now all 10 crew members are on board," he said. "There's been no request for evacuation."
Two Canadian and one American coast guard ships were also on scene and three helicopters were on stand-by at the closest airport, he said.
The Simushir lost power Thursday night in rough seas west of the Haida Gwaii archipelago, off B.C.'s northern coast. There were immediate concerns it could drift ashore, break apart and spill hundreds of tonnes of bunker and diesel fuelling the vessel, creating an environmental disaster.
Before the line broke, the Simushir had been towed about 45 kilometres away from the western shore of Haida Gwaii. Crew members attempted to repair a broken oil heater that left the vessel without power.
"They were not able to effect the repairs," Pendergast said.
The ship, registered in Kholmsk, Russia and owned by Russian shipping firm SASCO, was en route from Washington state to Russia, laden with containers of solvents and mining equipment.
The ship's captain was flown on Friday to Sandspit, on Haida Gwaii, for medical care. Officials said they could not release any information about his condition.
The Haida Nation set up an emergency command centre in Old Massett, on the northern tip of Haida Gwaii. Haida Nation President Peter Lantin said an oil spill along the coast of the archipelago would be a disaster.
"This is home for us. If this thing runs aground and hits in one of the most culturally sensitive areas of Haida Gwaii, it's going to have catastrophic effects," he said.
Roger Girouard, the coast guard's assistant West Coast commissioner, said Friday that environmental-response assets from government agencies and private industry were deployed to the area as a precaution.
The potential for marine disasters along B.C.'s coast has become a particularly sensitive subject in recent years amid the debate over the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline to Kitimat on the North Coast and Kinder Morgan's proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline into Metro Vancouver.
The two projects would add more than 500 tankers a year to the current traffic along the coast. The province's plans for liquefied natural gas exports would add further to the tally.