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19 Oct, 2014 01:13

Emergency: Russian cargo ship with 450 tons of fuel adrift off Canada coast (VIDEO)

Emergency: Russian cargo ship with 450 tons of fuel adrift off Canada coast (VIDEO)

Canadian and US coast guards have been struggling to tow a 135-meter Russian cargo ship after it lost power in gale force wind conditions. As 450 tons of bunker oil and diesel were on board the ship, the situation prompted fears of an ecological disaster.

READ MORE: US judge: BP's reckless conduct led to 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Cargo ship Simushir went adrift on Thursday off the West coast of Haida Gwaii, located near British Columbia. The vessel left Everett, Washington and was bound to Russia.

As the ship became incapacitated amid the storm, its plight raised an alarm in the regional media, as 400 tons of oil and about 50 tons of diesel fuel it was carrying were deemed enough for an environmental catastrophe, in case the vessel ran aground.

The crew fruitlessly attempted to restart the engine. The captain was injured and was later evacuated by helicopter.

The Canadian Coast Guard rushed to help, but the rescue operation initially went awry due to the heavy weight of the ship and four-meter high waves in the area.

According to CBC, the Canadian vessel Gordon Reid carried out three failed attempts to tow the ship, due to tow lines breaking.

Eventually, US Coast Guard vessel managed to establish a tow line with Simushir, and the ship was reported as safely drifting in an area away from the shore and free rocks, limiting the risk of a spill, AP reported. The Canadian rescue ship also stayed in the area to offer its assistance.

Barbara Foss – a large US tugboat – arrived at the scene at 5:30pm local time (4:30pm GMT) to secure and direct the vessel in distress, CBC said.

The US Coast Guard said it was on standby just in case other crew members needed evacuation as well.

Royal Canadian Navy Lt. Greg Menzies said the Russian vessel is 24 nautical miles (44 kilometers) away from the shore. "What's good is that she's very far off the coast. We've put some really good distance there," he told CBC News.

There are 10 crew members on board the Russian ship, who are continuing to repair the broken oil heater, which is the center of the problem, Menzies said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took to Twitter on Saturday, expressing his thanks for the “great work” the Canadian Gordon Reid ship has been doing.

Thank you to the @CCG_GCC's Gordon Reid and others for the great work they are doing off the coast of the Haida Gwaii off the coast of BC.

— Stephen Harper (@pmharper) October 18, 2014

Simushir was built in the Netherlands in 1998 and is owned by SASCO, which is registered in Kholmsk, Russia, according to the company’s website.

British Columbia residents have been particularly fearful of an accidental oil spill in the region ever since the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which is considered one of the worst environmental disasters in history.

Screenshot from Ruptly video

The spill happened in Alaska waters when an Exxon Valdez oil tanker bound for California collided with a reef and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil within the next few days. The spill, which took place in the habitat area of salmon, seals, sea otters and sea birds, covered some 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) of coastline and about 28,000 square kilometers (11,000 square miles) of ocean.

A USA tug boat saved Haida Gwaii from #Simushir and a USA ferry saved the man in Campbell river. Canada not prepared for #northerngateway

— M. Zak Henderson (@RestoreEcology) October 19, 2014

RT @always_vote: It has taken over 40 hours for a vessel fully capable of towing #Simushir and it's from the USA #bcpoli#cdnpoli

— Neil W. Humphrey (@neilwhumphrey) October 19, 2014

The extra concern over the stranded ship comes after the devastating consequences of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed eleven people, spilled 4.9 billion barrels of oil for a total of 87 days, and irreversibly destroyed wildlife in the area.