Remote operated vehicle being sent underwater to give officials a better look at sunken barge wreck

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By Tina Comeau


The last time anyone saw the Shovelmaster barge was before it sank in heavy seas about 80 kilometres south of Yarmouth a week ago.

But officials are hoping to get a good look at the condition of the sunken wreck through the aid of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that was being deployed 475 feet underwater.

They also hope to get a better handle on the source of a fuel leak coming from the barge, which also has dredging equipment on it.

The plan is to send down the ROV this weekend, weather permitting. “It’s basically a big box with a camera and lights,” Geoff Britt, a spokesperson for J.D. Irving Ltd. and Atlantic Towing Ltd. in Saint John, N.B. “We need to understand the integrity of the wreck and locate the source of the leaking fuel,”

The barge, which was being towed from Saint John to Halifax, capsized in rough seas on Nov. 19, shortly after three crewmembers were rescued from it in dramatic fashion with each one hoisted from the deck of the barge into a rescue helicopter. After a few perilous days floating upside-down on the surface of the ocean, the barge sank on Nov. 22 while it was under tow.

When the barge sank it contained 70,000 litres of diesel fuel, 1,135 litres of hydraulic fluid and 757 litres of waste oil.

Two days after the sinking, officials flying over the area in a pollution patrol plane spotted a sheen on the surface of the water. The amount was estimated to be about four litres and the type of diesel fuel involved, it was said, tends to evaporate quickly. “It’s on par with a diesel product,” said Tim Surette, the regional director of Maritime Services for the Coast Guard. “It evaporates very quickly. The key point to make is it’s not at all like bunker C. It wasn’t a tanker, it was a fuel tank from a barge.”

The word earlier in the week was that it was anticipated the situation would have minimal impact on the environment.

Contacted on Friday for an update, Surette said on Thursday two more slicks were spotted from the air at the site of the sinking. “They were estimating 55 litres,” he said. “It was very calm and the calmer it is the better chance you’re going to be able to see the slick. It was still a very light sheen. You probably wouldn’t be able to see it if you were on a boat. That’s how light it is, you can only see it from the plane.”

Surette said the Regional Environment Emergency Team (REET) that has been pulled together to oversee the situation will be meeting Monday afternoon to go over the information brought back to the surface from the remotely operated vehicle.

Meanwhile, lobster fishermen have been told to steer clear of the area where the barge sank. While it’s not so much an issue at this early part of the season, it could be in the weeks ahead as fishermen shift their gear further from shore. A main concern is gear entanglement.

Asked Friday if there are plans to raise the wreck, Britt said that conversation is premature until they get a better of idea of what exactly they are dealing with underwater.

Organizations: J.D. Irving Ltd., Atlantic Towing, Maritime Services for the Coast Guard

Geographic location: Saint John, Yarmouth

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