Robson Bight Salvage Operation a Success

Feature story - May 19, 2009
The long awaited salvage operation of the wreckage in Robson Bight Ecological Reserve was completed on Tuesday, providing hope that B.C.’s resident orcas no longer face the threat of another spill from a sunken truck laden with diesel fuel.

Greenpeace is concerned about the health of one of the largest resident orca populations near Vancouver Island, after a diesel spill in an ecological reserve.

Almost two years after a barge carrying logging equipment tipped its load into the ocean releasing diesel fuel into the reserve, another barge carrying salvage equipment has successfully raised a container filled with dozens of pails of hydraulic oil and a tanker truck carrying 10,000 litres of diesel fuel from the depths of Robson Bight.

Preparing for the salvage operation

Preparations for the salvage operation began with an underwater inspection of the wreckage to ensure that the tanker truck and other equipment were still in the same location, intact and in good enough condition to be raised safely.

The last underwater investigation took place in December of 2007, so there was concern that the articles could have shifted or deteriorated during this time. Before salvaging the fuel truck began, its orientation was adjusted and its wheels were lifted out of the mud to ensure an easier and safer lift.

Preventing a spill during salvage

To help prevent a diesel spill during lifting:

  • oil booms were deployed around the site at all times, even though local whale experts were confident of the plan,
  • a metal box was first lowered over the tanker truck,
  • then the truck was secured inside the box and lifting began,
  • divers inspected the box and tanker at 10 meters below the surface and confirmed there was no leaking of diesel,
  • the box and tanker were carefully lifted onto the barge by a huge crane

Operation a success, danger averted

The first phase of the salvage operation was an overall success with only a very minor leak of oil on the surface which was protected by the guard boom and swiftly absorbed with special materials.

The second phase, and the most concerning part of the operation, was a complete success. The fuel truck was raised without a drop of diesel to the water.

Monitoring the operation

Local First Nations and environmental groups were on the scene, helping to monitor the sensitive environment surrounding the reserve.

Greenpeace and all groups concerned about the whales have now breathed a huge sigh of relief. We will continue to fight for stronger protection of the killer whales and their habitat.

For more information about how Greenpeace is working to protect the orcas visit: http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/recent/orca-court-case

Robson Bight Ecological Reserve

Robson Bight was created in 1982 to protect vital orca habitat.

The threatened resident killer whale population frequents the waters of Robson Bight to feed and use the beaches to rub their bellies on the pebbles. Because the northern residents are listed as threatened under Canada's Species at Risk Act, this area has been identified as critical habitat and is therefore legally protected.

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