The barge sank again on Jan. 8 and is still resting under water. (Bill McQuarrie photo)

The barge sank again on Jan. 8 and is still resting under water. (Bill McQuarrie photo)

Refloating of sunken Port McNeill barge to resume in early February

This will be the second attempt at recovery after poor weather conditions caused barge to re-sink

The next effort to refloat the 80-foot barge, Alaska Plaza that capsized and sank at the Port McNeill government dock on Christmas Eve, will begin in early February.

This will be the second attempt at recovery as weather conditions in early January frustrated efforts to complete the original refloating and removal of the barge.

In a report to Port McNeill council on Jan. 26, Lucas Williams, the town’s assistant harbour manager, provided the first public and detailed chronology of the capsizing, beginning with the sinking during a storm on Christmas Eve.

In his report, Mr. Williams summarizes the following sequence of events of those first 18 days:

Dec. 24 – That night, the coast guard notified the town that one barge had capsized at the dock and another had broken free and washed against the harbour breakwater. Town emergency crews responded, confirmed there were no people onboard and then had to stand down due to the deteriorating weather conditions.

Dec. 25 – Christmas day and crews returned to the dock and determined that both barges were in such a condition as to be unrecoverable that day. Oil and other contaminants were observed in the area and Western Canada Marine Response Corporation was called in to establish a containment boom around the capsized vessel.

Dec. 28 – The Canadian Coast Guard hired a salvage master to manage the recovery of the barges and cleanup of the area and that night, the smaller barge, the 50-foot Sea Lander was recovered and removed from the area.

Jan. 03 – Over the next several days, the coast guard and salvage company brought in heavy lift equipment and drew up plans for refloating and removing the Alaska Plaza. During that time, weather continued to plague operations and recovery crew efforts were limited to preparing the barge for refloating and removing equipment and other contaminants from inside the sunken barge.

Jan. 08 – The Alaska Plaza was lifted and by late afternoon was above water and dewatering of the hull had begun. Overnight, adverse weather conditions returned and during the storm the weight of the water inside the hull became such that the barge again capsized and sank.

Jan. 09 – The resinking resulted in another fuel release within the boomed area. However, the storm broke up the containment boom and fuel oil escaped and spread along the shoreline of the harbour. Between Jan. 9 and 10, teams recovered and removed all contaminated sorbent material from the area

Jan. 10 – It was determined that little to no recoverable contaminants were now being released and the boom was removed. All containment equipment remains on site and is available for rapid deployment in the event it is again needed and the site continues to be monitored by the coast guard’s environment response team.

Mr. Williams notes in his report to council that: “…shoreline assessments are being made in the surrounding areas and the site is being monitored.”

The report goes on to note that: “Small Craft Harbours and the owner’s insurance company are working towards a solution for damages that the dock endured during this event.”

Work on the refloating is tentatively scheduled to begin on Feb. 4.

— BY BILL McQUARRIE


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