SS Arrow was built by Bethlehem Steel Company, Sparrows Point, Baltimore, Maryland in 1948 as the tanker Olympic Games. Renamed the Sea Robin in 1960 and finally to Arrow in 1962, the ship was a Liberian-registered tanker. At 551.2 feet (167.9 metres) in length, 68.3 feet (20.7 metres) in width, and a draft of 29.9 feet (9.1 metres), she was an enlarged version of the standard American wartime tanker design and one of the oldest tankers in the fleet of Aristotle Onassis, owned by the Sun Navigation Company. The Arrow ran aground and spilled its load of oil into Chedabucto Bay on February 4, 1970. It remains the most significant oil spill off Canada’s East Coast (with some 10,000 tonnes or about 25% of the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989.) Only the MV Kurdistan comes close when that vessel spilled about 6,000 tons of oil after breaking apart just south of Cabot Strait on March 15, 1979.
Accident and loss
Arrow took on approximately 16,000 tons (10 million litres) of bunker C oil in Aruba, off the coast of Venezuela under charter to Imperial Oil Limited, bound for the Stora paper mill in Point Tupper, Nova Scotia. On February 4, 1970 in Chedabucto Bay, off the east coast of Nova Scotia in a gale and only 14.6 nautical miles from her destination, she ran hard aground on Cerberus Rock, a known, well-charted hazard to navigation. The tanker ran aground mid-morning, halfway between high and low tide, being driven by 60 knot southwesterly winds and blinded by a heavy mist. The impact drove the forward section of the tanker onto the rock formation wedging it with the starboard side hard against the rock pinnacle. Efforts to free her from the rock failed as did efforts to pump her cargo into salvage vessels and pounded by wind and wave action broke in two on February 8, 1970 spilling about two-thirds of her cargo. The subsequent inquiry revealed that Arrow's depth sounder had not been operational for two months, her autogyro compass showed a permanent error of three degrees west and her radar failed about an hour before she ran aground.
The crew was taken off the vessel late into the night on February 4, 1970. After four days of rough seas and weather pounding the vessel against the rock, the deck plates and side plating began to buckle. On February 8, 1970 the tanker split into two sections. Both the stern and bow sections sank in an upright position and little damage was done to the storage tanks and cargo hold in the stern section. Of the ships 30 cargo tanks, only 9 tanks remained intact after the vessel sank, all of which were located in the stern section of the tanker. Salvage operations began in the end of February 1970 to pump all of the remaining Bunker C out of the tanks which remained intact. After deployments consisting of 22 days all together, all remaining Bunker C was removed by April 11, 1970.
On February 5, 1970 a mile long oil slick had formed and was heading for Cape Breton Island, the northern side of the bay. Small aircraft attempted to disperse the oil dropping a chemical dispersant known as COREXIT on the spill, but this failed. The oil spread and washed ashore on many beaches in the bay. In a week’s span, the oil spread to occupy 75 miles of beachheads and threatened to spread even further. In the end the oil spill claimed 190 miles of shoreline and some amount of pollution still remains to day eating away at the local environment. The clean-up took months to complete. The pollution caused by the spill handicapped the fishing industry in the bay. Studies were performed on the pollution by testing local fish and crustacean life in the bay. Fisherman were catching lobsters and fish completely coated in Bunker C. The Fisheries Research Board of Canada performed a series of experiments in May 1970 to evaluate the cleanliness of the aquatic life in the bay. They came up with a series of rules for the commercial fishing business to abide by for the health of humans consuming their products. In all aspects the cost of cleaning the spill and the cost of the environmental impact cost the local government millions.
Removal of Remaining Bunker C
As preparations began to pump the oil from the sunken tanker, the Curb, a salvage barge from New York, was dispatched to help assist with pumping the remaining fuel out of the cargo tanks. In preparation for the Curb Royal Canadian Navy divers performed tests with equipment that would be used to penetrate the tanks on the Arrow and attach hose fittings so the fuel could be pumped out of the tanks. The challenge was the fuel had to be heated before it could be pumped out. The Curb was equipped with special steam pumps so steam could be pumped down into the tanks to heat the Bunker C. After the fuel was pumped out of the cargo tanks, the fuel was transferred to the Irving Whale, an oil transfer barge. Because of limited capacity on the Irving Whale assisting with the removal of Bunker C and intermittent weather foul conditions, the whole operation was completed in three phases totaling over 22 days. Over 36,924 barrels of Bunker C fuel was recovered from the sunken vessel over the three deployments. The load was split between the Irving Whale and the smaller Imperial Cornwall. On conclusion of the operation, both the Irving Whale and the Imperial Cornwall were towed to Halifax where the oil was unloaded. Irving Whale would become the subject of another oil spill on 7 September 1970 when she sank in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands.
At present the wreck still rests alongside Cerberus Rock split into two sections. On August 28, 2015 a Transport Canada aircraft spotted an oil leak in the vicinity of the wreck and closer inspection revealed a crack in one of Arrow's decks. A patch was installed in October which would allow more time for a plan to pump out the remaining oil. In November 2015, cleanup crews successfully removed 30,000 litres of oil from the wreck.
- Colton, T. (October 5, 2014). "Bethlehem Steel Company, Sparrows Point MD". ShipbuildingHistory. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
- Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (5 October 2007). "Arrow - 1970". Province of Nova Scotia. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
- Transport Canada (20 October 2014). "Tanker Safety and Spill Prevention". Transport Canada. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
- Beson, M. (2001). "A View of The Arrow Spill and Its Effects on The Chedabucto Bay Area" (PDF). MSVU.
- Pottie, Erin (6 October 2015). "Infamous oil tanker Arrow still leaking 40 years on". The Chronicle Herald. Retrieved 2015-10-07.
- Pottie, Erin (23 November 2015). "Heavy oil from Arrow shipwreck off Cape Breton removed". The Chronicle Herald. Retrieved 2015-11-24.