Quadra Island's Reef Barge - No Risk?

Posted on November 12, 2019
Last updated: January 9, 2020
Tags: Quadra environment fire

Tim Lavoie

I was just reading the story in the Campbell River Mirror, online at https://www.campbellrivermirror.com/news/no-danger-to-quadra-island-residents-says-representative-for-barge-parent-company/

I found it interesting to note that the shipping company’s parent states that there is no hazard to Quadra Island residents, while a hazard placard is visible from shore on at least one of the tankers.

Specifically, it’s a red, “flammable” placard, category 3 (flammable liquids, water-miscible), with a number “3286” on a hand-written center.

The additional number basically provides more detail, in essence that the contents are toxic as well.

I’m on our local fire department; while I can’t speak for the department, I can tell you what the hazmat guide says for this category. The contents have a very low flash point, and are very flammable.

If a rail car’s worth is on fire, the guide states that we’d want to isolate a minimum 800m from the site, and consider evacuation within that range as well. From the barge’s current location, that would be all of our Whiskey Point residents, plus a few others, and would almost reach the nearest interesection to the Quathiaski Cove ferry terminal.

Here’s a map, showing a line of about 800 metres from the barge, roughly between the two tugs shown in my Vessel Finder app, and the road down to the ferry terminal.

map

It looks like the ferry lot would have a second, more northern access to Green Road, but I am not sure that’s reflected in any current road access.

If that road is unusable, the Whiskey Point resort and a few more houses would probably get evacuated as well, as there is only one road in to them.

Besides risk to the public, the instructions are to use unmanned monitor nozzles for a large fire; if this is impossible, back off, and let it burn. There are two tankers on the shore-facing side of the barge, and I suspect we could reach one of them from the shore if need be. The other would possibly be a stretch, meaning our very terrestrial department may not be able to help much if one of these tanks got punctured during recovery. (Remember, low flash point, and flammable vapor.)

I also looked for a corrosion inhibitor that would match the characteristics stated. I can’t be sure it’s the same, but this one fits the shipping characteristics, including hazards and that it might be shipped in rail-car quantities.

One of that product’s main ingredient looks to be methanol. If I recall correctly from race car accident videos, the fire, if one were to occur, may well be invisible to the naked eye. This would be an unpleasant surprise for anyone on board the barge or the adjacent tugs.

Section 12 of the data sheet contains ecological information. Perhaps an ocean spill would have short-lived effects due to dilution, but the MSDS sheet says,

“Environmental Effects: Very toxic to aquatic life. Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects.”

I think all of this means that as long as the containers keep containing their product, all will be well. Let’s hope the recovery team is better at their job than the whatever led to the barge being on the rocks in the first place.

Update: A bit late here, but better than never. After a bit over a week, recovery crews were able to refloat the barge before dawn, and tow it off to a nearby facility north of Campbell River for inspection and repairs. No further information yet about how this all came about, but we lucked out this time.