Arrow oil spill’s 50th anniversary

    On February 4, 1970 the oil tanker Arrow ran aground on Cerberus Rock in Chedabucto Bay, resulting in 10,000 tonnes of bunker C being spilled.

    STRAIT AREA: An unwanted milestone was celebrated earlier this month.

    On February 4, 1970, the Liberian registered oil tanker Arrow ran aground on Cerberus rock, off the coast of Isle Madame. Four days later, the wreck broke in two pieces, resulting in the spill of millions of gallons of thick bunker C crude oil into Chedabucto Bay, becoming the largest oil spill ever on Canada’s east coast.

    Under charter at the time to Imperial Oil, the Arrow was approaching the former Nova Scotia Pulp and Paper Mill in Point Tupper after a voyage from Aruba, carrying 10 million litres of oil.

    The vessel struck the rock amid severe weather and gale force winds, and while it seemed there was no threat of leakage at first, bad weather continued to batter the Arrow.

    By February 8, the ship split in two, with the stern sinking in deeper water.

    Subsequent attempts in the following days to remove the cargo were unsuccessful, nor were attempts to recover her stern. In all, about 10,330 tonnes of fuel were spilled, coating 75 miles of shoreline with thick black sludge killing wildlife and threatening the fishery in Guysborough and Richmond counties.

    Shore cleanup was a long difficult process which pioneered many clean-up techniques, like the Slick Licker, used in later tanker disasters.

    The final retrieval of oil from the Arrow was completed on April 11 and some of the oil was removed and placed at sites on Isle Madame and eastern Richmond County.

    In many coves and inlets around Chedabucto Bay, oil from the Arrow can still be seen under rocks, underground, and in solid chunks left-over from the shoreline clean-up which employed bulldozers at the time.

    One example is Black Duck Cove in Little Dover Guysborough County where oil from the spill is seen in pools and pockets around that section of coast line.

    Photo by Jake Boudrot
    This barge, with a pumper truck on the top, was used in the clean up of oil leaking from the tanker Arrow five years ago. It is pictured moored at the wharf in Arichat during high winds and rough seas on November 5, 2015.

    Just when it seemed the spill itself was a distant memory, on the 45th anniversary of the spill, the Canadian Coast Guard had to act fast to contain a leak from the wreckage of the Arrow.

    After oil was first spotted around Cerberus Rock in September of 2015, then a Transport Canada aircraft flying over Chedabucto Bay confirmed the finding. Coast Guard crews worked quickly to determine the source of the leak then contain what was in the water.

    About 40 litres of oil escaped from the wrecked tanker which had a 12 –foot crack in one of the submerged tanks. The Coast Guard said the vessel had shifted at some point, creating the breach.

    Although the vessel was pumped out in 1970, the Coast Guard said residual oil or clingage remained in the tanks, and when the crack appeared, the oil escaped.

    Once crews patched the crack, they planned to pump-out the oil that floated to the surface, then check the rest of the wreckage to see if other cracks appeared, while containing and removing oil from the water.

    Pumping operations began on October 22 and crews worked until November to clean up the oil.