Monday, May 15, 2006

 

Wreck filled with oil and bombs

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The Vancouver Sun
By Peter O'Neil
May 11, 2006


Canada seeks help in securing U.S. army transport ship that sank in 1946 off B.C., but poses huge hazard
OTTAWA -- The Canadian government -- fearing a 700-tonne oil spill and even a massive underwater explosion -- is seeking international help to deal with a bomb-laden, oil-leaking American army transport vessel that sank off the B.C. coast in 1946, according to an internal document.

The Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski, a ship used in both the First and Second World Wars, ran aground and sank in a blinding storm in the Grenville Channel, 40 kilometres north of Hartley Bay -- near the site of the recent sinking of the BC Ferries vessel Queen of the North.

Federal officials were alerted to the wreck's dangers in 2003 after oil was discovered on the surface near the site. Divers were sent down twice to seal leaks, although no further work has been done due to concern about the unexploded ordnance, believed to include at least a dozen 227-kilogram bombs.

"Concerns have been raised that the unexploded ordnances on the wreck site are within recreational diving range," wrote Larry Murray, deputy minister at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in a March 15, 2005, briefing note obtained through the Access to Information Act by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin.

"Up to six cruise ships per day pass through the Grenville Channel, approximately [90 metres] from the wreck site, and a concern was raised that a charge could be placed at the wreck site and set off as a cruise ship transits the area."

Officials are monitoring the site but no further work has been done.

"Due to the vessel's advanced state of corrosion, it will begin to leak oil again in the near future, posing an imminent pollution threat," Murray wrote.

"Due to the discovery of munitions at the wreck site, no further response operations can be conducted until an assessment of the munitions is completed and the wreck site is declared safe."

Officials at the Fisheries Department, the Canadian Coast Guard, and Foreign Affairs Canada confirmed Wednesday that the government is seeking international assistance and advice.

"We're pursuing formal discussions with the U.S. about this vessel, and we need to investigate the conditions and circumstances of it now, and determine a further course of action in light of what we find," said Foreign Affairs spokesman Rodney Moore.

The department issued a warning in January 2004, ordering mariners to avoid anchoring or fishing within 200 metres of the wreck site, which is about 27 metres below the water's surface.

Murray, in his note to former fisheries minister Geoff Regan, said the government was developing a response plan involving five departments, including the Department of National Defence and Environment Canada.

The U.S. government has also been contacted, "requesting their potential involvement and participation with the response, a cargo manifest list to assist DND in assessing the risk posed by the munitions," and details on the size of the vessel and its fuel tanks.

The Canadian Coast Guard's Mike Grebler said officials have also contacted the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom, due to its expertise in dealing with unexploded bombs and shells at the famous Scapa Flow site off the Scottish Coast.

That's where the warships of the interned Germany navy were scuttled under German orders to prevent the ships from falling into Allied hands.

AN UNEASY GRAVE

The wreck of General Zalinski lies 1.35 nautical miles southwest of James Point on Lowe Inlet in the Grenville Channel, a busy route for ferries, cruise ships and virtually all ocean travel to Alaska.

VANCOUVER SUN, SEPT. 30, 1946

Graphic details of how the 3,000-ton U.S. Army transport ship, General Zalinski sank in blinding rain in darkness south of Prince Rupert Saturday night, were related today by the ship's 48 survivors, who were rescued by a tug and passenger steamer.

No lives were lost and no one was injured in this first major marine disaster on the B.C.coast this fall. Union Steamship passenger ship SS Catala landed the 48 U.S. Army personnel survivors at Prince Rupert last midnight.

The Zalinski, en route from Seattle to Whittier, Alaska, with a cargo of army supplies crashed onto rocks of Pitt Island in Grenville Channel, 55 miles south of Prince Rupert. Her bottom was torn out and she sank within 20 minutes.

The 48 men, soaked to the skin, and shaken, were picked up from lifeboats and from the water by the passing tug, Sally N.

"Driving rain made it so black we couldn't even see the bow when we struck," said winch-operator Bernard Boersema of Everett, Wash.

"The force of the collision broke Nos. 1 and 2 hold clear open - a tear about 40 feet long." he said.

"As soon as we struck, the mate ordered me to 'sound' the bilge water in those two holds.

"There was already about seven feet of water in No. 2 hold and more rushing in like fury. I knew then we were sinking.

"The mate shouted to me to forget about No. 2 hold and abandoned ship.

"I, and some of the others, jumped into No. 1 lifeboat, which had been lowered as soon as the vessel started to founder."

The tug Sally N, staggering in the heavy seas under the load of the 48 survivors plus her own crew, made her way to the nearby Canadian Fishing Co. cannery at Butedale.

There is little chance of the Zalinski's being salvaged, since she lies in 80 fathoms of water.

DANGEROUS CARGO

Bombs: At least 12 aerial bombs, estimated at 500 lbs. each.

AMMO: Numerous .30 and .50 caliber rounds of ammunition.

Fuel: Bunker oil estimated at about 700 tonnes.

OTHER: Truck axles with army type tires.

MAIN WORRIES: Up to six cruise ships per day pass approximately 300 ft. from the wreck site; due to the vessel's advanced state of corrosion, it will begin to leak oil again in the near future.


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