Stricken Russian ship Simushir off Canadian coast could lead to environmental disaster

The Simushir is being towed to safety, but poor weather could hinder the coastguard's efforts to rescue the ship

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The Independent US

A Russian container ship carrying hundreds of tonnes of fuel, which had been adrift off the coast of Canada for almost two days, has been secured by a towline to a coastguard vessel, lessening the likelihood of an oil spill.

All now hangs on the weather, as continued rough seas and high winds will hamper efforts to tow the stricken ship away from land.

The ship, known as Simushir, was left without power late on Thursday night in rough seas, 9 miles off Haida Gwaii also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia, as it was travelling from Washington state to Russia.

Despite one coastguard boat managing to attach a towline to Simushir, three further vessels are to be sent to help with the rescue efforts.

Melissa Kia, a Sub Lieutenant at Canada’s Pacific Coast naval base, said that the container ship is being slowly towed to Prince Rupert and while the danger has lessened, it is not over.

The fear of oil spills is especially acute in British Columbia, where residents remember the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989.

Pete Lantin, the president of the Council of the Haida Nation, warned on Friday that a storm coming into the area was expected to push the ship onto the rocky shore.

"If it hits where it's going to hit, this ship is going to be torn apart," he said. "We expect a catastrophic event and a huge disaster on our hands."

About 5,000 people live on the island and fish for food nearby, he added.

A spokesman for Russian shipping firm SASCO, which owns the Simushir, said it is carrying 298 containers of mining equipment, in addition to heavy bunker fuel as well as diesel oil for the voyage.

The U.S. Coast Guard had a helicopter on standby in the event that the entire crew needed to be pulled off the ship. Officials said the captain was evacuated after being injured, but they were given no further medical details.

Additional reporting by Associated Press