US tugboat declined assistance from Canadian Coast Guard before sinking and spill

The US tugboat that ran aground and sank off the British Columbia coast last month, causing an estimated 100,000-litre diesel spill, initially declined assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), according to the Globe and Mail.

The newspaper obtained audio of exchanges between crew of the Nathan E Stewart and CCG officials wherein the Coast Guard lifeboat Cape St James offered to help refloat the tug by towing her to deeper water.

The Nathan E Stewart, which was pushing an empty petroleum barge at the time, missed a course change and had become grounded on a reef near Bella Bella at the entrance to the Seaforth Channel on Athlone Island.

An unidentified officer on the Stewart declined the offer of help, preferring to wait for the tide to lift the vessel free while running the risk of damage on the rocks.

But eventually the tugboat had to call for CCG help, reporting breaches of the hull and of a fuel tank. The crew of seven had to abandon ship and it sank.

Now, almost a month after the October 12 incident, there are still dozens of vessels assisting with the spill cleanup.

Environmentalists and aboriginal Heiltsuk Nation spokespeople criticized the slow and disorganized initial response to the incident.


Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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