ATL 2701

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Name: ATL 2701
Owner: J.D. Irving Ltd.
Operator: Atlantic Towing Ltd.
Port of registry: Canada
Route: Atlantic Canada
Builder: Saint John Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company Ltd., Saint John
Laid down: 1966
Launched: 1966
Christened: 1967
Completed: 1967
In service: raised/salvaged 30 July 1996, renamed following refit in 1997
Out of service: 7 September 1970 (sunk at 47º22'N, 63º20'W)
Fate: salvaged
Status: active
Notes: originally named Irving Whale, renamed ATL 2701 upon reactivation following salvage in 1996
General characteristics
Tonnage: 3,734 t (3,675 long tons)

1,819 t (1,790 long tons) [net]
Length: 77.69 m (254.9 ft)
Beam: 17.68 m (58.0 ft)
Draught: 5.03 m (16.5 ft)
Decks: 1
Propulsion: non-propelled
Speed: 0 0 kn (0 km/h)

The ATL 2701 is a Canadian general cargo barge owned by J.D. Irving Ltd. and operated by JDI subsidiary Atlantic Towing Limited.

Formerly named Irving Whale, the barge underwent a refit in fall 1996 and was renamed to its present status in 1997.

The barge contains a spacious hold that was formerly used for transporting petroleum products, however it is now used exclusively to carry general cargo on deck. Recent manifests have included wood chips and structural steel.

Its area of operations is primarily Atlantic Canada. In December 2007 the ATL 2701 was contracted to haul a cargo of steel pipes through the St. Lawrence Seaway into Lake Ontario destined for the Portlands Energy Centre project in Toronto Harbour.[1]

Irving Whale

The barge was laid down as the Irving Whale at Saint John Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Ltd., Saint John in 1966. It was launched and commissioned by owner J.D. Irving Limited in 1967.

The barge was designed as a tanker barge to carry petroleum products, mostly fuel oil, in eight below-deck cargo tanks, in addition to deck cargo on the main deck.

Irving Whale saw extensive use in the waters of Atlantic Canada after entering service. The barge's fuel cargo tanks were used exclusively by Irving Oil, a sister company to barge owner J.D. Irving Ltd. It delivered fuel oil such as Bunker C to major industrial customers such as electrical generating stations and pulp and paper mills, as well as top-deck general cargo.


On Saturday, 5 September 1970, the tugboat Irving Maple departed Halifax, Nova Scotia towing Irving Whale at 0845 local time. The Irving Whale was carrying a cargo of 4,270 t (4,200 long tons) or approximately 4,351,800 l (1,149,600 US gal) of Bunker C, also known as #6 fuel oil, destined for the Consolidated-Bathurst Inc. pulp mill in Bathurst, New Brunswick.

The Irving Maple towed the Irving Whale east from Halifax Harbour along the Eastern Shore, then through the Strait of Canso, transiting the Canso Canal into the Northumberland Strait on Sunday 6 September 1970 at 1300 local time. The tug/barge took a northerly course into the central Gulf of St. Lawrence, passing between East Point, Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands before turning northwest toward the entrance of Chaleur Bay.

The tug/barge made approximately 8 kn (15 km/h) until reaching the open Gulf of St. Lawrence between Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands, where the Irving Maple reported wind gusts approaching 32 kn (59 km/h) and choppy seas early on the morning of Monday, 7 September 1970.[2]

At approximately 0700, the Irving Maple reported a vibration in the tow rope and it was decided to lengthen the tow from 321 m (1,053 ft) to 482 m (1,581 ft) out of concern that the Irving Whale might strike the tugboat.[3]

Immediately after the tow was lengthened, the stern of the Irving Whale submerged and the barge took a 45º list. The crew of Irving Maple provided continuous radio updates to the Canadian Coast Guard as they observed the barge founder over the next 3 hours.[4]

At 1023 local time on 7 September 1970, the Irving Whale sank at 47°22′09″N 63°19′46″W / 47.36917°N 63.32944°W / 47.36917; -63.32944Coordinates: 47°22′09″N 63°19′46″W / 47.36917°N 63.32944°W / 47.36917; -63.32944 in approximately 67 m (220 ft) of water. The location of the wreck in the centre of the Gulf of St. Lawrence was approximately 60 km (32 nmi) northeast of North Cape, Prince Edward Island and 100 km (54 nmi) southwest of Cap du Sud-Ouest, Magdalen Islands.

The exact location of the wreck was known immediately after the sinking as the Irving Maple's tow line remained connected to the Irving Whale.[5]

Since the Irving Whale sank stern first following progressive flooding over a three hour period, the barge ended up settling in an upright position. The seafloor in the vicinity of the wreck was level and composed of sedimentary sandstone and sand.

The cause of the sinking was attributed to two possible causes as a result of poor weather conditions:

  • seawater accumulated in the aft end of the open deck cargo area; or
  • seawater flooded the engine room through an open door (the barge had a small engine for powering oil cargo pumps and heating systems).


For 2 days following the sinking, bunker C fuel oil leaked from the Irving Whale, covering an area of approximately 400 km2 (120 sq nmi). Approximately 200 t (200 long tons) of bunker C washed ashore on the Magdalen Islands, polluting approximately 80 km (43 nmi) of shoreline; 200,000 bags of oil debris were recovered during cleanup operations in fall 1970 on the Magdalen Islands and buried in sand dunes there. An unknown amount of bunker C floated into the Atlantic Ocean through the Cabot Strait and some washed ashore on Prince Edward Island as well.[6]

In the fall of 1970 a visual inspection was undertaken of the wreck by a submersible vessel. Divers secured pressure relief vents to prevent further leaks. The sinking of the Irving Whale resulted in the heating system for the bunker C shutting down. Within days, the cold waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence caused the oil to congeal, reducing leakage from the barge.

At the time of its sinking in 1970, the location of the Irving Whale wreck was considered international waters since it was located further than 12 nmi (22 km) from the nearest shoreline. As a result, the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage held jurisdiction over the pollution caused by the cargo of bunker C leaking from wreck of the Irving Whale. Canada's ratification of the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) in 1977 saw its jurisdiction extended beyond the 12 nmi (22 km) territorial sea to include waters within the new 200 nautical miles (370 km) exclusive economic zone, thus taking jurisdiction over the Irving Whale wreck.[7]

As a result of the sinking, J.D. Irving Ltd. abandoned ownership of the wreck, since it was considered to be in international waters.

From the time of its sinking in 1970 until its salvage in 1996 the Canadian Coast Guard made regular aircraft and surface surveillance of the wreck site to check for pollution; Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada assisted CCG in surveillance operations. The Irving Whale lost approximately 1,100 t (1,100 long tons) of bunker C, leaving approximately 3,100 t (3,100 long tons) of its cargo of fuel oil on board.[8]

Throughout the 1970s until its salvage in 1996, the Irving Whale continued to experience minor leakage from its cargo vents and other valves. Throughout the 26 year period it was submerged in the salt waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the thickness of the barge's steel hull was reduced by approximately 5 mm (0.20 in) as a result of corrosion.

Transport Canada conducted detailed inspections of the Irving Whale wreck in 1989 and 1990 which confirmed that the barge was leaking approximately 80 l (21 US gal) of bunker C per day. In September 1990 the Public Review Panel on Tanker Safety and Marine Response Capability noted the thinning of the barge's hull and the potential for a catastrophic release of the remaining cargo of bunker C fuel oil. It recommended a decision be made within 12 months on whether to remove the oil and/or raise the Irving Whale. Both Transport Canada and Environment Canada commissioned two additional studies in 1992 to evaluate options for dealing with the barge and its cargo; both studies recommended pumping the oil without raising the barge. In 1993, the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund, Canada's domestic replacement to the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, commissioned a study of the Irving Whale; it confirmed both pumping the oil or lifting the barge with oil on board were feasible, however lifting the barge with the oil was preferable as it was less risky to the environment.[9]

A 1993 inspection of the wreck confirmed additional small leaks from cargo vents; hatches were reinforced and the vents sealed. A 1994 inspection of the wreck confirmed several vents were still leaking 20 l (5.3 US gal) per day, far less than the previous year. That same year, the CCG created two Public Advisory Committees, one in Prince Edward Island and the other in the Magdalen Islands as part of a consultation process for dealing with the wreck.

In 1994 the Government of Canada committed to raising the Irving Whale and cleaning the wreck site from contamination.


In March 1995 Environment Canada reached an agreement with Atlantic Towing Ltd., who would provide assistance in the salvage operation, and with Irving Shipbuilding, who would clean and dispose of the Irving Whale upon its salvage. In June 1995, Donjon McAllister Joint Venture of New Jersey won the contract to lift the Irving Whale with a tendered price of $12.1 million.

On 23 June 1995, J.D. Irving Ltd. revealed the presence of PCB fluid within the cargo heating system pipes of the barge. On 18 July 1995, divers began preparatory work on the barge. On 21 August 1995, the Federal Court of Canada stayed the decision to lift the barge based upon an injunction filed by the "Société pour vaincre la pollution Inc." (SVP) and the "Regroupement madelinot pour la protection du golfe Inc." to stop salvage efforts pending an investigation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The injunction delayed work on the salvage operation until 11 September 1995, causing the lift to be deferred to the next "weather window" in summer 1996.

Further analysis of the environmental consequences of salvaging the Irving Whale took place in fall 1995 and winter 1996. In April 1996 SVP dropped its injunction against the project.

On 30 July 1996, the Irving Whale was hoisted by derrick barges Chesapeake and Boabarge 9 to the surface in approximately 70 minutes. The Irving Whale was then floated on board the semi-submersible barge Boabarge 10, which transported the Irving Whale to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Irving Whale arrived in Halifax Harbour on 7 August 1996 and was transferred to the care of Irving Shipbuilding. The barge's cargo was removed and the cargo hold cleaned before the barge underwent a refit at Irving Shipbuilding subsidiary Halifax Dartmouth Industries Limited. Following refit, the barge was transferred to Atlantic Towing Ltd. and renamed ATL 2701 for service as a general cargo barge.


The cost of the salvage operation was $42 million. This cost was assumed by the federal government with great controversy, given the wealth of Irving Oil Ltd., owner of the cargo of oil, and J.D. Irving Ltd., owner of the barge.

On 29 July 1997 the federal government filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court to recover its costs for the salvage operation with the owners of the Irving Whale, J.D. Irving Ltd., as well as the Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund and the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund 1971. In Canada v J.D. Irving Ltd., the plaintiff (the federal government) sought action against the defendants (the barge's owners and charterers) based on the statutory liability of an "owner" under subsection 677(1) of the Canada Shipping Act, as well as on the torts of negligence and nuisance. The defendants centred their defence on whether the action by the government was time barred and whether legislation created after the sinking of the Irving Whale could be applied retroactively. The case was heard on 9-10 December 1998 in Montreal. The decision was released on 21 December 1998 in favour of the defendants.

The federal government filed an appeal in the Federal Court of Appeal in 1999 that was heard on 2 May 2000. The appeal was rejected.

On 17 July 2000, the federal government announced that it had reached a $5 million out-of-court settlement with J.D. Irving Ltd. to recover costs incurred in the salvage of the Irving Whale. The settlement respected the "Polluter Pays Principle" which was the government's position since 1995. The $5 million is in addition to the $4 million that J.D. Irving Ltd. contributed during the recovery and clean-up of the Irving Whale.