Ministry of Labour and Citizens' Service Brigadier General M.G. Zalinksi Oil Recovery Operation
The Ministry of Environment (MOE) has concluded its participation in the General Zalinski pollutant salvage operation.
The MOE worked in partnership with the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and other agencies, to remove oil and other pollutants from a United States naval supply ship that sank near Prince Rupert in 1946. Specially trained salvage crews have removed most of the remaining oil from the ship, preventing releases of significant amounts of oil that would have threatened nearby fish and wildlife.
The United States Transport Vessel Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski ran aground during a storm and sank in Grenville Channel while enroute to Alaska from Seattle. It now lies upside down in about 90 feet of water, roughly 100 kilometres south of Prince Rupert. The vessel has been the source of numerous small oil leaks over the last decade as the ship slowly deteriorates, releasing oil from the fuel tanks.
The CCG, as the lead federal agency, announced plans in July 2013 to address the ongoing threat of pollution by removing the fuel on board, as well as potentially addressing other hazardous materials and munitions in the ship’s cargo. The Ministry of Environment’s Environmental Emergency Program, as the lead provincial agency, began joint planning for the operation with the CCG in late summer 2013 and participated in joint operations at the Incident Command Post in Prince Rupert and in the field from October to early December 2013.
The Ministry brought together a team of experts to support the salvage operation. The Ministry’s Spill Incident Management Team was activated to participate at both the Incident Command Post and at the site of the wreckage, where a salvage team used a combination of highly skilled divers and remotely operated equipment to remove the oil. The Ministry also had a Provincial Incident Commander and Environmental Unit Leader at the Command Post. Technical specialists in Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Techniques (SCAT), waste management, and treating oiled wildlife also participated. No marine mammals or wildlife were impacted during the operation.
SCAT work is normally done following an oil spill: the Zalinski operation gave SCAT crews a unique opportunity to study the incident site and surrounding area and design protection strategies before a spill could happen. This led to a better understanding of the area and what strategies and techniques could be used to both protect and clean shorelines if required. Crews assessed the shorelines to predict where oil might land and what its effect would be and then identified priority areas for protection based on their cultural, ecological and economic values. Oil deflection booming was installed in high priority areas to protect beaches and shellfish harvesting areas.
The Ministry of Environment and CCG have also been working closely with local First Nations to ensure local fisheries resources and site of cultural significance were protected during the salvage operation. The Gitga’at and Gitxaalas First Nations participated in several important roles, including as Incident Commanders in Unified Command, in the Environment Unit and the Environmental Field Assessment Teams.
Environmental monitoring will be conducted in early 2014 and a plan is being developed for a longer term monitoring and sampling program in the area.