Oil from sunken ship still infuriating Newfoundland community

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Biologist wants coast guard to listen

A seabird biologist would like to see the coast guard integrate local hunters and fishermen to help monitor for leaked oil.

Officials with the Canadian Coast Guard prepare a neoprene gasket aboard the Anne Harvey, which was lowered to the sunken Manolis L to prevent an oil leak in May. — Submitted photo

Bill Montevecchi is making the comments in the wake of the news that oiled birds are still being spotted by hunters near Fogo Island in the area where the Manolis L sank.

The paper carrier went down in 1985 during a storm in an area known as Blow Hard Rock — between Bacalao Island and Change Islands — and lies 82 metres below the surface.

Oil leaking from the ship became a concern last winter and spring. The coast guard made attempts to seal the disintegrating ship, which is full of bunker c oil, earlier this year, but recently hunters in the area have been picking up oiled eiders and turres during their hunt.

Montevecchi says it’s time the coast guard used the people raising the alarm to everybody’s benefit.

“These guys just don’t have to call up complaining. They actually could be part of the search process or monitoring process or whatever. There’s just a better way to do it,” says Montevecchi.

Barry Brinson is one of the hunters who first reported the oil and the oiled birds and did so again recently. It’s not just the birds he’s worried about. It’s the local fisheries and tourism.

The response he’s been hearing from the coast guard has been doing little to ease his concerns.

“They say, ‘We flew over it. And it’s only a litre of oil or two litres of oil,’” Brinson says, adding that such a small amount of oil can still cause a sheen a mile wide and several miles long.

He wonders what will happen if the thousands of bunker C left in the ship leaks out and gets into the beaches and wharves. Tourism, along with the fishery, will be shot, he says.

Fogo Island has been the site of high-end tourism development lately as millionaire Zita Cobb has built a multi million dollar resort.

These guys just don’t have to call up complaining. They actually could be part of the search process or monitoring process or whatever. There’s just a better way to do it.Biologist Bill Montevecchi

“They spent however much here for a hotel for people like Oprah Winfrey to stay into. So that was a waste,” Brinson says.

Montevecchi isn’t satisfied with the coast guard’s response, either. The Canadian Coast Guard’s Bob Grant has been the person speaking about the issue.

“He assures everybody that everything is under control and how they’re checking it. Well, terrific. In the meantime why not just get some fishermen and hunters who are on the water all the time. And every time (they’ve) been the ones who have reported this. It hasn’t been the coast guard,” Montevecchi says.

He describes the issue as “huge” and predicts that unless a long-term solution is found for the Manolis L, this conversation will be one that will continue to happen for the foreseeable future.

In an email response, the coast guard says it routinely monitors the site. There was an aerial surveillance flight on Dec. 6 and 0.33 litres of oil was observed. Another flight on Dec. 8 found no oil.

No additional oiled birds have been reported since this fall’s initial report from the hunters, the coast guard says in its email, and it’s still waiting for results from the samples of four oiled birds reported at that time.

The coast guard is currently developing plans to re-check the hull of the Manolis L and to conduct the re-investigation as soon as possible.

When weather and sea conditions permit, it will also service a noise-making device that deters seabirds from the area.  

The next scheduled flight by coast guard is for Friday, weather permitting.

Organizations: Canadian Coast Guard

Geographic location: Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Bacalao Island Change Islands

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