On Thursday night, October 17, 2014, the 440′ Russian container ship SIMUSHIR lost power in heavy winds and rough water off Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, while sailing from Everett, WA to Russia. SIMUSHIR was carrying 298 containers of mining equipment and chemicals as well as 450 tons of fuel. Drifting helplessly, it could have hit the rocky shores, broken apart, and created an international environmental disaster.
The ship drifted without power from Thursday night until Friday night. Canadian Coast Guard cutter GORDON REID then arrived and secured a line on the ship, according to officials with the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria. The SIMUSHIR’S captain was evacuated by helicopter with an unknown condition, and the 10 remaining crew stayed on board trying to restart the engine.
The GORDON REID slowly towed the disabled ship due west away from Haida Gwaii’s coastline. On Saturday, October 19, the GORDON REID’s towline parted and the SIMUSHIR was once again adrift. Other Canadian and American Coast Guard cutters had arrived by then, so they tried securing a line to the ship. Twice they tried; twice their lines parted. It is difficult to tow a huge container ship, but a fully-fitted oceangoing rescue tug can properly assist. The American tug BARBARA FOSS, based in Neah Bay, WA, came to the rescue.
At 5:30 pm Saturday, BARBARA FOSS arrived and secured a line to the drifting ship. A spokesman for Russian shipping firm SASCO, the owners of the vessel, said the owners asked that SIMUSHIR be towed to the nearest port, Prince Rupert, 93 nautical miles away. Early Monday, October 20, the tug and ship arrived safely in port at Prince Rupert. Engine repairs were expected to take two days.
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak thanked responders Sunday for managing the situation. “As fortunate as we were on this occasion, this event underlines the need to develop a world-leading marine response system,” Polak said. “The federal government has taken steps towards developing a world-class marine response system but more work is required.”