HALIFAX, N.S. — A remotely operated submersible is being prepared to dive on the wreck of a fuel-laden dredging barge that sank in lobster grounds off southwestern Nova Scotia on the weekend.
The small, unmanned submarine will be used to record video of the sunken barge, which was carrying 70,000 litres of diesel when it sank in rough seas 80 kilometres south of Yarmouth on Saturday, Canadian Coast Guard spokesman Joe LeClair said Tuesday.
He said the submersible, known as a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV, will also be used to determine if the barge is leaking. It is scheduled to make its first dive later this week, but that won’t happen unless the weather is calm.
Earlier Tuesday, the crew aboard a Transport Canada surveillance flight reported there was no pollution, wildlife or fishing boats in the area where the Shovel Master went down.
“At present, there’s minimal environmental impact,” said LeClair, noting that a wildlife expert is expected to have a look at the area during a surveillance flight Wednesday.
If there is a spill, the private company hired to clean up – Eastern Canada Response Corp. – is preparing a specially equipped buoy designed to keep seabirds away.
The Breco Bird Scaring Buoy, produced by Quebec-based Navenco, emits loud bangs and whizzes to keep birds at a distance of at least 800 metres.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the company that owns the barge said officials had yet to decide whether to recover the vessel or the fuel onboard.
Geoff Britt, a communications officer for J.D. Irving Ltd. of Saint John, N.B., said the company was monitoring the situation and collecting information from federal experts.
He confirmed Atlantic Towing Ltd. – another subsidiary of the Irving group of companies – was getting the ROV ready.
“It will determine the integrity of the wreck,” said Britt.
The Shovel Master, a dredging barge built in 1980, was swamped by large waves last Wednesday and capsized while being towed from Saint John to Halifax.
On Monday, federal officials said only one, small slick was spotted in the area that day, but the volume of the spill was estimated at only four litres.
The barge is sitting on the ocean floor in 150 metres of water.
Britt said the crew from Atlantic Towing didn’t anticipate harsh weather when they started towing the barge last week.
The day before the capsizing, Environment Canada’s 3:30 p.m. marine forecast for the area called for norwest winds to diminish to 45 kilometres per hour with showers in the evening.
When the 42-metre vessel rolled over Wednesday, winds were gusting at 83 kilometres per hour and wave heights reached three metres. Photos from the coast guard show the vessel partially submerged by heavy swells before it flipped.
Britt said it was “standard procedure” for the barge to be carrying 70,000 litres of fuel even though it was headed to Halifax for maintenance.
He said the rig required fuel for normal operations, including the use of generators onboard.
The federal Fisheries Department confirmed Monday that the sinking occurred at the outer edge of lobster fishing area 34.
Even though the fall season for Atlantic Canada’s largest lobster fishery started Monday, lobstermen were not expected to head to the edge of the fishing zone until much later in the season.
Transport Canada has committed to a week of daily surveillance flights over the area where the barge went down.
Meanwhile, fishermen have been warned to stay at least one kilometre away from the site of the sinking.