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Arrow Disaster

Five miles off the coast of Isle Madame just below the surface of ChedabuctoBay lurks a monster. Since the early Basque and French fishermen first crossed the Atlantic in search of fishing grounds in the 1500’s, this three-headed beast periodically rises above the waterline in search of unsuspecting prey, and, unfortunately, over the past 400 years, has claimed its share of victims.

There is an unsubstantiated story that during the fall of Louisbourg, in the middle of the eighteenth century, a ship named Cerberus struck a rock formation of three protrusions in ChedabuctoBay and foundered. Is this the origin of Cerberus Rock’s name, or should credit be given to someone familiar with Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Greek mythology, which guarded the gates of Hades? At one time locals referred to the outcropping as Man-O-War Rock for some unaccountable but perhaps obvious reason.

In any event, this chunk of granite has become infamous as Cerberus Rock, and its infamy is well earned. At least five ships have fallen victim to the three-headed monster guarding ChedabuctoBay: the Shara MacLeod, the Spika, the Thomas J. Carroll in 1936, the Gard in 1937, and the Arrow in 1970. The only ship to survive the rock was the MountSorrel, an ore carrier that in 1947 was rescued by the tug Foundation Josephine and its captain, John Cowley.

Chedabucto Bay is a body of ocean approximately 30 miles long by 8 to 10 miles wide that separates the mainland of Nova Scotia from the island of Cape Breton, or more specifically the mainland County of Guysborough from the Cape Breton county of Richmond.

On February 4, 1970 the 524-foot tanker, Arrow, bucking 70-mile per hour southeast winds, was making its way slowly up ChedabuctoBay on the last leg of its journey from Venezuela to the pulp mill at Point Tupper. The 11,379-ton ship carried a cargo of 3 million gallons of Bunker C, a heavy oil with industrial applications. The oil belonged to Imperial Oil; the ship, to Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping magnate who had gained celebrity status after his marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of assassinated American President John F. Kennedy.

Arrow Disaster

Visibility was poor on this dark, stormy February morning and Captain George Anastasopolous aware of this dangerous stretch of the Bay was on the lookout for buoys. Tragically, through mis or missed communication, he did not realize that, as per winter protocol, the large buoys had been replaced by smaller spars that could more effectively cope with ice conditions In addition the navigation equipment, radar, gyro, and echo sounder, either functioned poorly or did not function at all. When the captain estimated that they were 5 minutes beyond Cerberus he put all hands on alert for signs of markers or the rock itself.

At 8:30 a.m., the radar recorded an echo of a very large object. Perhaps because this instrument was unreliable, its reading was ignored. The captain reduced speed and all hands continued a visual search.

At 9:30, the Arrow struck Cerberus Rock. Simultaneously Captain Anastasopolous tried reversing engines and put out a distress call to the Canso station. He requested that the ship owners be notified as well as the Search and RescueCenter at Halifax.

In Port Hawkesbury the pilot boat Lady Mood and its captain, Art Langley also received the distress call and set out immediately.

At the same time, a Department of Fisheries Ship was tied up at Port Hawkesbury. The distress call was intercepted and the ShediacBay headed out to provide assistance.

Back at the crash site, Captain Anastasopolous’ efforts to free his ship proved unsuccessful; the stern moved from side to side but Cerberus resisted all efforts to free the Arrow from its grip.

Captain Leo Murray of the dragger J.B. Nickerson was only five miles from the Arrow, and, in fact, had felt that she was running much too close to Cerberus.

By 10:30 a.m., both the ShediacBay and the J.B. Nickerson were on the scene, and at that time, oil was seeping from the bow. The ShediacBayimmediately put rescue measures into effect and was able to transfer three crewmen. The winds, however, were so high that further attempts had to be abandoned.

Arrow Disaster

The crew of the Arrow continued efforts to free her, but after eight hours of futility, Captain Anastasopolous gave the order to abandon ship. The Lady Mood and the Narwhal had arrived during the day and immediately began disembarking the crew, thirty-one in total and transported them to Port Hawkesbury. The captain and officers of the Arrow stayed aboard all night; one of the tasks they undertook was to shut down the boilers – this one action would have dire consequences.

The storm continued unabated on into the night of February 4, and it was not until the next morning, Thursday, February 5 that conditions moderated. Two tugs had arrived on the scene, one being the Foundation Vigilant, and they succeeded in attaching lines to the Arrow, and putting a watch rotation into effect.

Captain Anastasopolous went ashore to discuss plans for dealing with the situation. With six of the nine tanks damaged it was decided to attempt to pull the Arrow off its perch, tow it 400 miles out beyond the Continental Shelf, a week’s trek, and send it to the bottom; if this failed, the contingency was to salvage the oil by pumping it into a ship suited to the purpose.

By this time, Federal Transport Minister Don Jamieson had been apprised of the situation, and he was quite unequivocal in maintaining that the ship owners were at fault. With his involvement and that of Imperial Oil, owners of the cargo, measures began to take shape.

Friday February 6 was a pivotal day but for all the wrong reasons. First, a boom constructed to encircle the Arrow to contain the spill proved ineffective in the choppy waters of ChedabuctoBay. Equally ineffective were the attempts of the tugs to pull her free. Then late in the day the oil barge Imperial Acadia arrived on the scene to execute plan B, which was to pump the oil from the Arrow so as to lighten the load and hopefully refloat her. This too encountered a roadblock: because the boilers had been extinguished, the temperature in the tanks had fallen from 100 degrees to 32 to 34 degrees, and the oil had become too heavy and thick to pump.

February 7:

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· An Imperial Oil spokesperson stated that the slick was 3 to 4 miles long by 100 yards wide, but that the company considered the ship owners responsible for the spill.

· A strategy to deploy aircraft and ships to spread chemical dispersants was abandoned due to unpredictable impacts on the environment.

· MLA Ritcey, Provincial Trade and Industry Minister called for a public inquiry.

· Fisheries Patrol Officer Arthur Terrio reported that the shores of Cap Auguet were covered in oil, and that he counted seventeen dead sea birds.*

*The oil, even a spot as small as a quarter, can destroy the bird’s natural waterproofing by causing a tear in the protective layer. Given the frigid waters, the bird is forced to burn up its stored body fat to keep warm. Soon exhaustion sets in and the bird dies of hypothermia. And if hypothermia doesn’t get them, ingesting toxic substances will, which happens when the bird tries to clean the oil from itself.

The next step was to reignite the boilers to raise the temperature in the tanks so as to return the oil to a form that could be pumped. Once again, however, success proved to be elusive, and when, on Saturday the 7th, the wind picked up, the Arrow began to shift, and the oil continued to spill, Transport Minister Jamieson ordered the tanker destroyed. But before explosives could be deployed, the longitudinal bulkheads gave way and the Arrow split in two; it was 4: a.m., Sunday February 8. Bunker-C poured from the bow and in short order a four-mile-long slick, 2 inches thick, had formed.

The immediate concern was the potential contamination of the two local fish plants, Booth Fisheries at Petit de Grat and Acadia Fisheries in Canso. Construction of booms was initiated forthwith. The one at Petit de Grat was made of plastic, 1 foot above the water and 2 below.

Arrow Disaster

Monday February 9: 5,000 barrels of Bunker-C escaped over a 24-hour period and began washing up on the shoreline; in places pools of oil were 20 inches deep. It was apparent that the situation had become critical. The immediate problem was three-fold: first, dispose of the stern of the wreck which was still full of oil; second, control the slick that had developed from the bow spill; and third, clean and reclaim any shores that had become polluted. Imperial Oil estimated a total cost of $1.5 million. (The actual cost was $4.5 million.)

On Tuesday February 10, plans made on Monday were put into effect, and Minister Jamieson asked that the clean up be completed by May 1. The Department of Transportation tackled the first problem by making arrangements to tow the stern section out beyond the Continental Shelf and dispose of it there. The second concern was addressed by accelerating work on the protective booms. Then there was the slick; the first option was to burn it. The Corning Glass Company of Pennsylvania had developed an accelerant called sea beads, a nonburnable porous glass poured on the oil to keep it burning. This did not work; too many beads were required to burn too little oil. American Army flamethrowers also proved inefficient. Even with hundreds of bales of straw strewn on the slick to aid the burning efforts, firing the heavy Bunker-C proved to be ineffective.

The next day, Wednesday February 11, the wind, at 40 miles per hour shifted from the northeast to the southeast effectively blowing the slick back in instead of out to sea. Harvey Clare, Environmental Coordinator for Imperial Oil, arrived on the scene. He assessed that with the bow section leaking oil very slowly a controlled leakage and burning would resolve that aspect. The sunken stern became the priority. The initial plan was to pump enough air into center tank number 7 to achieve buoyancy. The stern could then be towed into a secluded cove where the Bunker-C would be heated and removed. A boom would encircle the cove to prevent further contamination.

It was estimated that this process would, including clean up, last into the spring. It was also estimated that there would be a substantial impact on wildlife and beaches. The amount of non-natural material entering the eco system would certainly have a negative effect on the taste of fish. Birds were dieing at the rate of 90 per mile. The shoreline would require 2 to 4 years for soil and plant life regeneration.

Reporter Don MacKay of the Chronicle Herald in a dispatch dated February 11 described the severe winter and sea conditions and the challenges faced by the crews and the disposal experts assigned to controlling the discharge, removing the oil, and destroying it. These men, he noted, worked valiantly and without rest against odds, which turned out to be insurmountable.

At this juncture of the saga, politics began to rear its ugly head. In the House of Commons Opposition Members of Parliament such as Robert McCleave, Halifax-East Hants, criticized Transport Minister Don Jamieson and the Government for failing to take decisive action and called for an inquiry.

Transport Minister Jamieson stated that the Government was monitoring the situation closely in an attempt to determine the extent of damage and loss and planning compensation packages. There were precedents: in Saskatchewan a mercury spill from a chlorine plant had effectively destroyed the pickerel population of a river system. In Newfoundland 400 fishermen had received $560,000 in compensation when phosphorus made its way into Placentia Bay resulting in loss of earnings for 6 weeks.

Jamieson held firm to his position that the owners of the Arrow were to be held responsible; however, there was an issue with Tovar, the International Tanker Owners’ Insurance Fund. Their policy covered only the costs of attempted salvage and clean up. The Government promised Fisheries support, and discussions were held regarding the possible designation of ChedabuctoBay as a disaster area and thus eligible for federal funds.

Other politicians like Guysborough MLA Angus MacIsaac, St. John’s East MP James McGrath, and even Robert Stanfield, federal opposition leader, pressed the respective governments for information and action in determining responsibility and putting policies and regulations in place for possible future catastrophes.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau responded that he was fully apprised of the situation, but that there were no international agreements in place to address anything similar to the Arrow disaster.

February 12th dawned with the bow of the Arrow still firmly attached to Cerberus Rock. John Dealziel from the Department of Fisheries Research Board indicated that the oil extended from CapeArgos to Ragged Head on the west and from FoxIsland to Canso on the south. It was estimated that one-half of the cargo had already escaped. Although no pollution had invaded Petit de Grat Harbour, most of the south and southwest shores of IsleMadame had oil buildup. Reportedly, though, sea flora such as plankton was at that time uncontaminated.

Transport Minister Don Jamieson reported that the bow of the Arrow would be boomed, sealed and burned using pellet wicks and magnesium flares. The stern would de disposed of far out to sea.

For the next couple of days efforts to deal with the situation continued although on Thursday the weather was so inclement as to make progress impossible. Friday the 13th lived up to its reputation with the sinking of the stern of the Arrow, the stern which still contained 1 to 2 million gallons of Bunker-C oil. And so, as this section of the ship sank to the bottom, 70 to 100 feet down, so too did the possibility of moving it far from any land mass. Now the problem of disposal had been compounded because removing oil from a submerged tanker in freezing water presented a whole new host of problems. In fact, it had never before been done so there was no template, no precedents to guide the operation.

At the Booth Fisheries plant in Petit de Grat, which drew 600 gallons of seawater per minute, trepidation heightened when the plastic boom, which had been placed at the mouth of the harbour, broke. Filters of wool felt were placed on the intake pipes and well drilling began to find alternate sources of water, and a cable replaced the rope in the boom.

Arrow Disaster

On February 14 federal Transport Minister Jamieson, who had been flown over the site of the wreck to see only the antenna mast above the waterline, was called upon to amend the Canada Shipping Act regarding crew competencies, marine equipment, and ship condition. The minister reiterated the position that the shipping company was at fault and the government would accept no financial responsibility. At this time Arichat Harbour, Petit de Grat Harbour, Jerseyman’s Island, Crichton Island, Janvrin’s Island, Inhabitant’s Bay, Fox Island Beach to Canso as well as 10 miles running southwest from Argos Point were threatened. Hopes were being pinned on sea beads and burning.

During the week of February 13 to 20 the booms for Petit de Grat and Canso were finished and as a precaution, one was begun for Mulgrave. The causeway at Lennox Passage had consumed 22,000 tons of rock fill and was nearing completion. The slick remained relatively stable although pieces of oil or pans drifted to the shores of IsleMadame on the north side of the Bay and to the Canso shore to the south. More importantly, oil continued to seep from the sunken stern section. The only alternative, it seemed, was to access the stern, attach flanges and hoses to it, and pump the 10,000 tons of oil into a barge. Mooring such a ship to receive the pumped oil was in itself another tactical conundrum.

By this time, it was estimated that 75 miles of coastline had been affected. In addition there were other concerns: weather conditions were difficult with heavy snow and wind, choppy seas, and water temperatures barely above freezing making burning attempts almost impossible. When it was discovered that someone was trying to sever the mast of the bow section with hacksaws, it was realized that looting had also become an issue.

The Isle Madame Board of Trade passed the following resolution:

“The Isle Madame Board of Trade requests the Richmond County Council, when it reconvenes February 25th, to have federal and provincial governments, through our elected representatives, set up an agency to assess losses, present and future, resulting from oil pollution due to the grounding of the tanker Arrow. To assist in preparation of claims on behalf of all injured parties, through the courts if necessary, to collect damages and reimburse claimants. The agency should recognize claims arising from loss of income due to effects on fishing, tourism, from indirect loss of business or from general loss of enjoyment due to defacement of the shorelines and the effect on bird life and from other damaging effects.”

On the 20th, Federal Transport Minister Don Jamieson took control of the operation, and his first act was to appoint a three-person task force consisting of Dr. P.D. McTaggart-Cowan, Dr. Henry Sheffer, and Captain Mike Martin.

McTaggart-Cowan, who headed the task force, had, to say the least, an impressive resume: degree in physics from the University of British Columbia, Rhodes Scholar (natural sciences, Oxford), physicist, chemist, meteorologist, first president of Simon Fraser University, Honourary Ph. D. in science from U.B.C., and Director of the Science Council of Canada at the time of his appointment to the task force.

Dr. Sheffer, chemist and a researcher, held two doctoral degrees, one in chemistry and one in physics. He had served in the army from 1942 to 1947 and later with the Defence Research Board. In February 1970, he was Deputy Chair of the Science Council of the Defence Research Board.

Captain Martin had graduated from the RoyalCanadianNavyNavalCollege in 1944. He became a specialist in anti-submarine warfare. He commanded the HMCS Chaleur and the HMCS Ste. Therese. In 1967, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to the Commander of Maritime Command.

The task force lost no time establishing three priorities: 1) clean up and prevent further pollution; 2) create and maintain good public relations;

3) issue a report and make recommendations. The task force and the project came to be known as Operation Oil.

Monday February 23rd saw the Task Force set up headquarters at the Port Hawkesbury Motel in Port Hastings. Canadian Armed Forces personnel, housed on the Narwhal and the Cape Scott, provided a 24 hours per day, 7 days per week communications network. McTaggart-Cowan, Sheffer, and Martin surveyed the site and the situation and embarked upon an operational plan to remove the remaining oil, dispose of the slick, and clean up.

A Committee of Concern was established with Adolph Kehoe as its chairman. They developed a callout system, which could mobilize a team at the old post office in Arichat within an hour. Working with the Task Force a direct line to operation headquarters was set up.

McTaggart-Cowan and lobster expert Dr. D.C. Wilder met with fishermen at Petit de Grat who were told that studies indicated that fish in higher concentrations of oil than that in ChedabuctoBay had demonstrated no adverse effects on flavour. They also received assurances that the rocks on the shoreline that they normally used for ballast would be cleaned using steam. In addition a steam launderer was set up in Pt. Tupper to clean the fishermen’s nets that had fallen victim to the slithering black monster unleashed by the Arrow.

At this point oil had reached SableIsland 110 miles off, and had already affected 3 to 5 miles of shore.

On the 25th Imperial Oil retained Sven Madsen, one of the foremost oil salvage experts in the world. He devised a “hot tap” system by which 8-inch diameter hoses would pump steam into the holding tanks to soften and liquefy the Bunker-C, then pump it out through the same hoses. The experiment worked even in the face of harsh weather and extra heavy plating on the stern of the Arrow. By April 19, all of the Bunker-C had been removed from the tanker.

Arrow Disaster

February 27: YMT and Canadian Forces divers arrived on the scene to begin their exploratory work, and on March 2 the American vessel USS Curb was procured to act as a support ship providing vital technical and machine assistance. Three days later divers made the first penetration of the hull of the stern section.

By March 11, 95,000 gallons of oil had been pumped from the Arrow into the barge Irving Whale and this despite 50-knot winds that had caused four mooring lines to be severed. The pumping would not be terminated until April 11. The dam at Lennox Passage was complete – 90,000 tons of rock and fill and 13 days later. This project was under the supervision of R.A. Douglas of New Glasgow and required sixty men, fifteen trucks, six bulldozers, and three front-end loaders. Also the oilevator or slick-licker, as it was better known, proved successful removing 43,000 gallons of crude per day. It consisted of a conveyor belt covered with terry cloth, which picked up the oil and deposited it in the barge to be bagged for disposal. By the end of March three slick lickers were in operation.

The following day saw work begin to clean the shorelines. Canadian Forces troops from Camp Gagetown, New Brunswick, 150 strong, undertook this major challenge. Because an oil-water mixture has an ignition point of 1,000 degrees, incendiary measures proved ineffective. The only tactic that achieved any degree of success was that of using bulldozers to pile up the fouled rocks, gravel, etc., then shoveling it into plastic bags, which in turn were trucked away for disposal. This was backbreaking, labour-intensive work, but it got the job done.

March 13: the Canadian Wildlife Service estimated that the death toll for birds had reached three hundred.

By March 28, 500,000 gallons had been pumped. The number reached 1 million by April 8, and by the 11, 1.3 million gallons had been removed.

Six weeks after the Arrow grounding, questions began to arise among the public and in the legislatures:

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· Was the buoy in place?

· If not, why?

· Is it necessary to remove buoys in winter?

· Should Cerberus Rock be removed?

· Why was oil not removed before the stern sank?

· Why did three days pass before even radiotelephones were in place?

· Why was the dispersant not in place on the Atlantic coast?

· Were there contingency plans?

· Why were we as a country not prepared for such a disaster?

On July 11, the beginning of the fishing season, reporter Ernest Hillen visited IsleMadame on ChedabuctoBay in an attempt to assess the possible long-term effects of the Arrow spill. He discovered oil 30 feet up the side of cliffs in places. That was one tangible effect; another would be a review and revision of laws governing tanker traffic in Canadian waters. Task Force director Dr. P.D. McTaggart-Cowan stated: “Laws regarding oil tanker operations have to be changed…With the navigational devices available there is no reason why ships cannot be sailed under the same controls as airplanes are flown.” Groups such as the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil tried to pressure governments to rethink marine laws. With the anticipated arrival of 200,00-ton tankers in the Strait, it was imperative that legislation be in place to protect the environment and those who depended on it.

Hillen discovered that one who depended on it was fisherman Alfred Boudreau of West Arichat. He had tested twenty traps for the Department of Fisheries and had come up with lots of oil but no lobster. Of his usual annual income of $3,500 to $4,500, he expected to lose 5 to $600. Another fisherman, Raymond Goyetche of Arichat had had to wash his boat in kerosene to remove the oil. It had taken him and a helper, Napoleon DeCoste, a week.

Clinton George of Janvrins Island had six children and twenty-one grandchildren; he was seventy-nine years old and had been he had been fishing for sixty-five years. The day previous he had caught a dozen herring, a porpoise, and a seal all covered in oil. On the other side of IsleMadame at Rocky Bay Joe Kehoe normally set five to six hundred traps. He expected to lose half his $3,000 lobster income.

In the March 26, 1990 issue of the Chronicle Herald, reporter Glen Hancock did a retrospective of the Arrow disaster. One of the issues he addressed was the criticism that not enough was done to deal with the catastrophe. Hancock provided a different perspective in that he acknowledged the unsung heroes of the Arrow saga. Citing the fact that this disaster presented a slate of problems that had never before been encountered, the implication is that everything was done that could have been done under the circumstances of severe weather and lack of protocols. He wrote about Harry Westlake and Don Kerr who stayed with the wreck in raging seas trying to rekindle the boilers; then there was the CBC’s Bill Curtis who drove an injured worker to hospital through a blinding blizzard; some reporters took to the rowboats in rough seas to help with the booming; Bill O’Connell directed the first three days of the situation without sleep; marine biologist Dr. Richard Warner of Memorial University of Newfoundland walked the cold, icy, oil-soaked beaches searching for birds in distress; Mike Kelly, Cpt. Alphie Theriault, Harvey Clare, Frank Belshaw, Jim Hornsby, Frank Weston – divers who worked unflinchingly in difficult and dangerous conditions.

In June 2002, Environment Canada conducted a 3-day training session on ChedabuctoBay and discovered considerable evidence of the wreck. According to Roger Percy, the head of the environmental emergency section for Atlantic Canada, “You can still smell the distinctive smell of Bunker C oil. It’s just like asphalt pavement in some areas. It’s settled and is up to 12 inches 30 centimeters thick and hard as a rock.”

Thirty-seven years later, the Arrow disaster still stands as the largest and most damaging spill in Canadian history. In all, 2.5 million gallons of heavy Bunker-C escaped from the Arrow (3,500 gallons is still unaccounted for). The coastline on both sides of ChedabuctoBay, 190 kilometers of it, bore the brunt of the contamination. So too did such seabird species as loons, Dovekies murres, grebes, and ducks, over 7,000 in total. The oil congealed in the frigid water and stuck like glue to the rocky shores. It is still in evidence today, a reminder of how fragile our environment is, and how, regardless of our technological sophistication, we are ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature.

In recent years, a remote operated underwater vehicle dove on the Arrow and found it to be heavily encrusted and badly degraded. Sixty per cent of its structural integrity is gone, but no leakage is as yet observable. Amen to that!

Albert Schweitzer once said: “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end up destroying the earth.”

What lessons can we take from the Arrow experience? Have we learned to foresee, to forestall, or will we destroy the earth?


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