Robson Bight salvage set to begin – May 12th 2009

At long last, the salvage of the diesel fuel tanker that fell to the bottom of Robson Bight, on August 20th 2007 is set to begin.  A barge laden with salvage equipment is anchored over the site, and a 30 person crew from Mammoet Salvage, a Dutch company, and Seattle based Global Diving & Salvage, has been busily getting everything ready for the operation over the past few days.  Local First Nations and NGOs are also involved, helping to monitor the sensitive environment surrounding the Ecological Reserve that was created in 1982 to protect vital orca habitat.

The salvage will probably begin tomorrow (May 13th).  Giant anchors have already been deployed to keep the barge in place. Today, a small remotely operated vehicle (ROV) equipped with cameras is inspecting the underwater site.  Hopefully, this inspection will ensure that the tanker truck and other debris are located exactly where they were when last seen in December 2007.  Hopefully, too, the inspection will determine that the condition of the diesel tanker truck has not deteriorated to the point where it will break apart when moved.

To help avoid the possibility of a spill of diesel oil during the tricky lifting part of the operation, a metal box (yellow in the photo) will first be lowered over the tanker truck, which will then be secured inside the box.  A huge crane on the barge will lift the box and its deadly cargo to the surface.  When the load reaches 10m below the surface, divers will inspect the box and tanker, to determine whether any diesel has leaked during the lift.  If there are no leaks, the box and tanker will be hoisted onto the deck of the barge.  At that point, the diesel will be pumped out of the fuel tanker into another storage tank, and everyone involved will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Weather permitting, the job of lifting will start tomorrow, beginning with a container filled with dozens of pails of hydraulic oil.  If all goes well with this initial lift, the fuel truck will be hoisted to the surface the following day (Thursday) or perhaps a day later.

On the surface at least, the plan is a sound one, though the operation is still complicated and unknowns may lie in the way.  To guard against the possibility of an inadvertent spill of oil, booms will be deployed around the site.  Everyone involved hopes they won’t be needed, and that the weather cooperates.

We will report again once the salvage operation is completed.  In the meanwhile, our fingers are crossed.

Listen now

Stream our live hydrophone audio