Lois Ann Dort
Remembering the SS Arrow; 50 years after the spill
Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the SS Arrow oil spill in Chedabucto Bay. The ship ran aground on Cerberus Rock near the Cape Breton community of Arichat contaminating coastlines in Richmond and Guysborough Counties. To this day, oil spilt on February 4, 1970 can still be found on some rocks along the shore from Canso to Halfway Cove.
The SS Arrow was a steam tanker with the capacity to carry 27 tanks of petroleum products. On that fateful day, the tanker was headed to the pulp and paper mill in Point Tupper, Richmond County carrying 16,000 tons of Bunker C oil. High winds forced the ship to run aground at Cerberus Rock spilling an estimated 3.5 million gallons of oil into the bay.
Pat Parker of Canso was the skipper on the Western Pride that day, working a cod trawl. Fifty years later the now 87-year-old, remembers the day well. He was fishing just outside of Canso and passed the SS Arrow as it headed for Point Tupper. A short time later the water was full of oil from the grounding.
Nets, traps, buoys, and trawls were coated with oil. “We took our traps over to Hawkesbury and got them cleaned,” said Parker noting that it was a couple of years before gear would no longer be fouled by the remaining oil from the ship. “There was so much stuff on the rocks and there is still some on it.”
Parker had been fishing since he was 12 years old and said he didn’t notice much difference in the actual catch after the spill; the main issue faced by fishers was the contamination of their gear. “It was an awful mess on top of the water, not much went to the bottom, but it was the mess floating on top that frigged it up.”
A lot of oil came up on the shoreline said Parker. “The Tickle wharf up there was full of oil and they were up there putting it in bags.”
As well as what came ashore, Parker said much of the oil also went out to sea.
Aubrey Jamieson of Halfway Cove was fishing lobster when the SS Arrow went aground. He too remembers fouled gear and years passing before the water along the shore was clear of oil from that spill. “I remember all the oil on the rocks here. It was an awful mess.”
Local people were hired to gather the oil off the beaches in bags and the “the whole bay” was full of oil. “It was a few years before they got it cleaned up at all. But I guess there is still some oil coming out of that thing,” said Jamieson.
And he’s right about that assertion. In October of 2015 an oil slick was seen on the water near the SS Arrow’s underwater resting site in Chedabucto Bay near Arichat. The Canadian Coast Guard was called in to work on oil recovery in November 2015. Divers entered the wreck with vacuum pumps and a supply of hot water to remove oil from the remaining tanks.
While more oil was removed from the vessel, it was left to rest on the ocean floor with some of its original Bunker C cargo still on board.
The memory of the SS Arrow oil spill is fresh in the minds of those who lived along this coast 50 years ago and remains a concern for this and future generations.