Newspaper article The Canadian Press

US Coast Guard Searching for Canadian Barge Adrift in Arctic Waters

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

US Coast Guard Searching for Canadian Barge Adrift in Arctic Waters

Article excerpt

US Coast Guard seeks drifting Canadian barge

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A U.S. Coast Guard plane is searching for a Canadian barge that has been drifting in heavy seas for days off the coast of Alaska.

"It's airborne right now en route to the Alaskan Arctic slope to try and relocate the drifting Canadian barge," U.S. Coast Guard Cdr. Shawn Decker said Friday.

Environmentalists say the situation is an example of why the Arctic needs tough regulations for shippers and a strong emergency response capability.

Decker said the barge was last seen on Wednesday and is thought to be within 15 kilometres of the low, gravelly Alaskan shore.

The barge, owned by Northern Transportation Corp. Ltd., broke free from its tugboat on Monday under unexpectedly heavy seas that featured four-metre waves and 70 km/h winds.

"The storm that came up was unforecasted," said Patrick Schmidt, president of Northern Transportation. "Nobody seemed to see it coming."

The barge was returning to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., after delivering supplies to a remote site along the Canadian coastline. The barge is unloaded, although it is carrying 3,500 litres of light diesel in fuel tanks for its own engines.

Decker said a Canadian government plane set off to look for the barge Thursday but had to turn back due to mechanical problems. The crew of the U.S. plane is using drift projections based on local currents and winds to find the 40-metre craft.

Although winds in the area remain high, a break is expected over the weekend, Schmidt said. If that happens, the company will try to get sailors aboard the unmanned vessel.

"Our intent is to get people on board to bring it in under its own power."

Tugboats in the region have all been docked for the winter. Decker said sea ice is closing in on the barge -- both from the shore and from the open ocean to the north.

Schmidt said there's a chance the barge may have to be left locked in the ice over the winter.

In case of an accident, Decker said, nearby Prudhoe Bay is well supplied with spill cleanup equipment. …

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