Adrift in Canadian waters

The 441-foot Russian freight vessel Simushir adrift after losing propulsion along the coastline of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, with 11 personnel aboard and an estimated 168,000 gallons of fuel. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The 441-foot Russian freight vessel Simushir adrift after losing propulsion along the coastline of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, with 11 personnel aboard and an estimated 168,000 gallons of fuel. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

With Alaskan waters bordering Canada in both the north and south, it’s no surprise that the U.S. and Canadian coast guards work hand-in-hand, training together annually to respond to maritime emergencies. Unpredictable Arctic weather presents complex challenges, and both countries occasionally rely on one another to provide a helping hand.

For Canada and the United States, the events of Oct. 17 provided that very opportunity. With 11 personnel aboard and an estimated 168,000 gallons of fuel, the 441-foot Russian freight vessel Simushir lost propulsion and drifted dangerously close to the coastline of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia.

In fear that the large container ship would crash into the rocky shores of the island and break apart, the Rescue Coordination Center in Victoria needed all hands on deck and requested assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard’s 17th District.

The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter SPAR transfers a State of Alaska Emergency Towing System to the pier in Ketchikan, Alaska, during their response the disabled vessel Simushir.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter SPAR transfers a State of Alaska Emergency Towing System to the pier in Ketchikan, Alaska, during their response the disabled vessel Simushir. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

With a storm forecasted to soon roll into the area, it became even more imperative to rescue the crew of the Simushir. The crews of Canadian coast guard vessels Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Gordon Reid arrived on scene and urgently tried to maneuver the freight vessel further out to sea and away from land.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter SPAR, a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender homeported in Kodiak, quickly made way to the Simushir’s location with a State of Alaska Emergency Towing System onboard.

The ETS was developed as a tool to assist disabled vessels and could be deployed either by helicopter or from a tug or other vessel of opportunity. The system was developed following the grounding of the 738-foot cargo vessel Selendang Ayu in December 2004 near Unalaska. In fact both the SPAR and the Sir Wilfrid Laurier had trained for a similar exercise during Arctic Shield 2013 near Teller, Alaska.

Along with the SPAR, an Air Station Sitka Jayhawk helicopter crew and an Air Station Kodiak HC-130 Hercules airplane crew, with a second State of Alaska ETS, were forward deployed to the town of Sandspit on Moresby Island to provide search and rescue assistance.

The 17th District also stood up their incident management team to direct Coast Guard assets and personnel support. Coast Guard Sector Juneau deployed six members, including the sector’s commander, to Ketchikan to establish the foundation for a unified command and to exercise their sub-area contingency plan with state and local partners.

The Coast Guard Cutter SPAR and Canadian coast guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier sail side-by-side during a VOSS equipment test near Teller, Alaska, July 18, 2013. The VOSS system uses a remote controlled skimmer, submersible pump, and inflatable barge to collect oil and small debris from the surface of the water. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

The Coast Guard Cutter SPAR and Canadian coast guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier sail side-by-side during a VOSS equipment test near Teller, Alaska, July 18, 2013. The VOSS system uses a remote controlled skimmer, submersible pump, and inflatable barge to collect oil and small debris from the surface of the water. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

The SPAR crew stayed on scene and kept in close communication with the Canadian coast guard vessels and the commercial tugboat, Barbara Foss, whose crew took the Simushir into tow and safely transited to Brown Passage, where two other tugboats took over and brought the freight vessel into Prince Rupert.

“The trusted partnership we have with our Canadian counterparts continues to be a vital component to protecting lives at sea and mitigating potential maritime emergencies,” said Rear Adm. Dan Abel, commander, Coast Guard 17th District. “We are pleased this case ended with a positive outcome; preparing for the worst case scenario is the first step in an effective prevention and response plan.”

This response showcased the continued support and unity between the two coast guards and highlighted our readiness to respond at a moment’s notice to those in need; a partnership that will continue to prove vital in the future between our common waters.

“Assistance provided by the U.S. Coast Guard in the form of the USCGC SPAR and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter at the ready in Sandspit, B.C. highlights the ongoing support that the U.S. and Canada provide to each other,” said The Honourable Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “And for that I would like to extend my appreciation.”

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