Ship that sank 52 years ago off B.C.'s coast now polluting marine park

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VANCOUVER — A cargo ship that sank off the west coast of Vancouver Island more than 50 years ago is now polluting the waters of a popular marine park.

The Canadian Coast Guard says a fuel-like sheen was investigated in September and was thought to be bilge discharge from a ship, but the problem continued and a deeper look uncovered the historic wreckage.

The MV Schiedyk left Gold River, B.C., with a load of wood pulp and barley on its way to Oregon on Jan. 3, 1968, and hours later hit a ledge off Bligh Island in Nootka Sound.

The area where the 150-metre ship went down is now a provincial marine park.

Tyler Yager, the deputy superintendent for environment response at the coast guard, said in a statement Friday they know the ship was carrying bunker fuel and diesel, but they don't know how much was released at the time.

"We're looking into the ship's records for more information on the fuel capacity of the ship, the fuel type, location of the fuel tanks and the original reports of the shipwreck. What we do know right now is that after 52 years, the Schiedyk has started to leak oil into the environment."

A submersible vessel sent down to investigate earlier this week confirmed it was the Schiedyk and that it was leaking some type of oil, he said.

The ship is sitting upside down at a depth of about 120 metres.

The park is a popular recreational destination for anglers, boaters and kayakers, who paddle among the islands in the sound.

Yager said there are many areas on and around Bligh Island that have ecological and cultural sensitivities.

More than 3,000 metres of oil-absorbent booms have been placed around the island's coastline. Yager said oil recovery skimming ships are on the water.

The coast guard is working with the B.C. Environment Ministry, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and local First Nations to mitigate the impacts of the oil in the area.

A marine mammal oil spill response team is surveying the area for animals that have potentially been affected by the oil.

Air surveillance of the area by drones and overflights by Transport Canada to assess the spread and direction of pollution are also underway, the response team said.