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Royal Canadian Navy personnel place booms and begin a cleanup following a fuel spill from HMCS St. John's (in background) in Halifax harbour on Wednesday, May 8, 2013.Tim Krochak

For the second time since 2011, a Royal Canadian Navy warship has spilled fuel into Halifax harbour.

Navy Capt. Angus Topshee says the spill is "significant," but he wasn't able to say how much diesel fuel ended up in the harbour on Wednesday from HMCS St. John's.

Topshee, the base commander at CFB Halifax, said about 150 military personnel were involved in a cleanup of the Dartmouth side of the harbour. Soldiers and sailors dressed in white plastic coveralls soaked up fuel using absorbent pads.

"We've done a fairly extensive cleanup along the shoreline," Topshee said.

The spill happened during a fuel transfer in the vessel and the moment the leak was discovered, it was stopped, he added.

"It was more than a small amount but not all the fuel in the ship," said Topshee.

A military spokeswoman said the spill was reported at 5 a.m. Wednesday by crew aboard the frigate, but Topshee said he wasn't sure when the spill was reported.

"As you can imagine, when something goes wrong there's a bit of confusion," he said.

In a statement, military public affairs said Canadian Forces safety and environment specialists were working with Environment Canada to minimize the impact of the spill.

The 134-metre ship was anchored near Dartmouth Cove, directly across from downtown Halifax.

The powerful smell of fuel on the water was still evident several hours after the spill was reported.

Built in the mid-1990s, the Halifax-class ship — one of 12 frigates in the fleet — has a displacement of 4,700 tonnes and is considered a navy workhorse.

Two years ago, it took the navy more than five hours to stop HMCS Preserver, a navy supply ship, from leaking fuel into the harbour.

An investigation into the spill on March 16, 2011, concluded there were several procedural lapses, including the fact that officers failed to act quickly, lighting was inadequate and lookouts weren't in the right position.

More than 14,000 litres of fuel leaked into the harbour that day.

During the cleanup, 54 navy personnel incurred 98 minor injuries, ranging from sore backs to severe headaches brought about from ingesting fuel oil.

The report also said Preserver's sister ship, HMCS Protecteur, experienced a similar spill six years ago in Manchester, Wash.

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