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Grenville Channel off the B.C. Coast

BC Ferries/BC Ferries

The Canadian Coast Guard will hire divers to patch and inspect a sunken ship off the coast of British Columbia after oil was spotted on the surface of Grenville Channel near Hartley Bay.

The work will be ordered on an "urgent" basis, reflecting concerns that the ship – the U.S. Army's Brigadier-General M.S. Zalinski, which sank south of Prince Rupert in 1946 – is leaking fuel and that the amount could increase, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

"There's concern that if there's a small amount today, could there be more tomorrow – that's the urgency behind it," Dan Bate, a spokesman with the Coast Guard's Pacific Region, said on Wednesday.

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Mr. Bate could not say when the work would take place, saying only that a tender for the job would be placed "urgently."

There have been previous concerns about the Zalinski, which was en route from Seattle to Whittier, Alaska, when it ran into rocks and sank. Its 48 crew members escaped and were picked up by passing vessels, but the ship's cargo, including fuel, lumber, bombs and ammunition, went down with the ship.

The Coast Guard sent dive crews down to patch leaks in 2003 and in 2005 after oil was observed leaking from the wreck into the channel, a thoroughfare for ferries and cruise ships.

After recent reports from area residents of an oil sheen in the area, a Transport Canada crew flew over the site on Wednesday, spotting a small amount of oil presumed to be from the wreck.

Also on Wednesday, residents from Hartley Bay were gathering water samples under Coast Guard direction.

From the air, it appeared the source of the sheen was "most likely from the Zalinski" and the amount was estimated to be as small as one-tenth of a litre of fuel, Mr. Bate said.

There have been talks between the U.S. and Canadian governments about cleaning up the wreck, dating back to around 2006. The United States considers the ship its property.

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To date, however, those discussions have not resulted in any firm plans to clean up the wreck and what it carries, posing a concern to the residents of Hartley Bay.

"It's been ongoing for a while now," said Arthur Clifton, a fisherman and a councillor with the Gitga'at Nation in Hartley Bay. "It's a big worry – with our shellfish and everything else."

The wreck is in the Grenville Channel, about 40 kilometres northwest of Hartley Bay.

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