News / Halifax

Salvager confident second try will move tanker off Cape Breton if weather holds

SYDNEY, N.S. — The salvage master for the company that will make its second attempt to dislodge a stranded 53-metre tanker grounded off Cape Breton, says he's confident the job will be done as long as wind and tide conditions cooperate.

In an interview Friday Chris Kirby, salvage master for McKeil Marine Ltd., said that given the size of the Arca 1 and the composition of the seabed in the small bay near Sydney Mines, he doesn't anticipate "needing a lot of pull to get it off."

"What we need is a combination of fair weather and high tide and what we are looking at right now is probably getting that scenario on Saturday evening," said Kirby.

The coast guard has said the vessel was on its way to its Mexico owner Petroil Marine, when it ran aground Sunday after its engines failed during a storm. Six crew had to be airlifted to safety.

An unsuccessful attempt was made to free the ship on Tuesday.

Kirby said salvage crews would meet with officials early Saturday to assess weather conditions before heading out from the port in Sydney, N.S. 

High tides are forecast to occur around 10 p.m.

"If we have a 10-hour window we're confident we can finish the recovery," he said.

Another key will be winds, which were forecasted to be running around 40 knots Friday afternoon, or about twice the speed required for safe operations. Kirby said the winds were expected to diminish to light westerly on Saturday which would be ideal for the two tug crews.

He said the operation in its initial stages will have to be wary of the lower tides because some crew personnel will be transferred to Arca 1 to help attach the 900 metres of floating tow line. He said a small boat will have to used, something that won't be easy to do given the ocean swell and waves.

"That's actually the most delicate part is trying to get the boat alongside," said Kirby. "You have to appreciate guys are climbing up a pilot ladder in full safety dress."

Before the tow line is attached the ship's ballast pump and four auxiliary pumps installed by the salvagers will be used to remove several tonnes of ballast water in an attempt to lighten and float the vessel during high tide.

He said about nine tonnes of the ship's fuel remains on board in order to run the vessel's hydraulic equipment to assist in attaching the tow line. It will also be needed to haul up the ship's anchor which was deployed by the Arca's crew when it went aground.

"We got a little bit of it up on Tuesday but there is still two shots of chain out so we do need the machinery," said Kirby.

He said as opposed to the previous tow attempt, all the ballast water will be off the vessel and that should make the difference.

"I think we are going to make it buoyant and then we are going to slowly pull it off."

Kirby said that based on the assessment of the vessel's condition to date the possibility of a hull puncture is "very low risk."

- By Keith Doucette in Halifax

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