Coast guard response workers retrieve an absorbent boom from the water. — Submitted photo
Robert Grant of the Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Response team calls an operation dealing with a leak from a sunken bulk carrier both "complex and dangerous."
Oiled eiders ducks were first spotted in the area of Blow Hard Rock between Bacalhau Island and Change Island in Notre Dame Bay in late March and early April. After investigating, the coast guard determined the source was the Manolis L, a ship that ran aground and sank in 1985.
Grant says response team's mission is to clean up any oil sheens they see on the water but, more importantly, to keep more oil from leaking into the ocean.
"Right now our immediate priority is to stop the source," he says. "That's what our short term priority is."
The coast guard is in the area to check on reports of an oil sheen and oiled birds in the area. The team knew of the sunken ship as a possible source, but Grant says it had to investigate to be sure.
"As part of our systematic approach we had to make sure there was no other potential sources there."
A remotely operated vehicle was sent down near the wreck site and leaks were identified.
The coast guard has set up a voluntary exclusion zone for marine traffic consisting of three buoys in a triangular formation. It covers an area of about one square kilometre. But with little marine traffic in the area, Grant says this allows for remediation to take place with minimal interruption from any vessel traffic that could be in the vicinity.
"It's just to make everybody aware," he says.
The team is currently tackling the sheen on the water.
"This sheen is fairly light," says Grant.
Booms have been set to try to recover it from the ocean surface but it's so light, Grant says it often can't be absorbed. Wave action acts to dissipate the oil. The sheen band is isolated to the area of Blow Hard Rock.
The more difficult part is the first priority of the response team - to contain the oil source. Grant says team members are taking diving proposals over next day or so on how that can be accomplished.
"This is still a very complex and dangerous operation," he says, adding it would hard to speculate on just how it's going to be done. Safety is imperative, he says. Conditions on the northeast coast offer their own obstacles and also make it hard to give a time estimate on how long the operation will take, he says. Since the operation is in the planning stages, Grant says the team may need equipment from out of province.
When The Telegram spoke with area local Barry Brinson in early April, he said he had spotted some 150 oiled eiders. It was suggested then that the Manolis L could be the source. There have been reports of dead eiders being collected in the area, but how many, if any, died due to oil exposure is unclear.