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The tug boat Nathan E. Stewart is seen in the waters of the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella, B.C., in an October 23, 2016, handout photo

April Bencze/Heiltsuk First Nation via The Canadian Press

The Heiltsuk Nation on British Columbia's central coast says salvage crews are ready to begin the process of raising a sunken tug for removal from Seaforth Channel.

But a release from the First Nation warns that a gale warning is in effect over the region, about 500 kilometres north of Vancouver, and all small boats have returned to port.

Winds up to 50 knots could delay plans the Heiltsuk say include work to reposition the Nathan E. Stewart from the site on a reef under nine metres of water just west of Bella Bella.

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When possible, the 30-metre tug is expected to be moved to deeper water, where it will be raised and loaded onto a barge for removal from the ocean off the Great Bear Rainforest.

The tug ran aground nearly three weeks ago, tearing its hull and releasing more than 100-thousand litres of diesel and nearly 5,000 litres of lubricants.

Since then, large shellfish beds vital to the First Nation economy have been closed to harvesting and the Heiltsuk say a dead seal and otter have been recovered, along with a number of oiled birds.

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