Belfast archive being used in bid to stem leaking shipwreck off Canadian coast

·4-min read

An archive in Belfast is being used in an operation to clear an oil leak from a shipwreck half way across the world.

The MV Schiedyk lies an estimated 400 feet under water off the western coast of Vancouver in Canada.

It sank in January 1968 after hitting an underwater ledge.

The MV Schiedyk when it was first built in Belfast in 1949
The MV Schiedyk when it was first built in Belfast in 1949 (National Museums NI/PA)

More than 50 years later, an oil leak has been traced back to the wreck.

National Museums NI is helping the Canadian coastguard’s operation by supplying plans and images from the building of the 483ft cargo ship in Belfast in 1949.

Originally a steamship, it was rebuilt in the 1960s to its oil-fuelled form.

These plans will help to build a clear picture of the type of oil used and the location and capacity of its fuel tanks.

William Blair, director of collections for National Museums NI, said they are delighted to help, particularly given the impact on the environment of the oil leak.

“Any way that we can help them mitigate the environmental damage is absolutely wonderful,” he told the PA news agency.

“For us, it has also been great to put the spotlight on the ship plan archive.”

William Blair, Director of Collections for National Museums NI (Darren Kidd/PA)
William Blair, Director of Collections for National Museums NI (Darren Kidd/PA)

The archive includes records from the Harland and Wolff shipyard as well as Workman, Clark and Co.

“Hundreds of ships were built over a long history of shipbuilding in Belfast, but obviously the one that gets disproportionate attention is Titanic.

“We do have the original design plans for Titanic and her sister ships, the Olympic and Britannic.

“We have a very extensive archive, we see it as being not just nationally significant but internationally important, given the importance of Harland and Wolff in the history of shipbuilding and the ships that were built in Belfast.”

The archive was recently rehoused in Cultra, Co Down and is now more accessible for the public by appointment when the museums reopen following the latest coronavirus lockdown.

“We have a dedicated exhibition on Titanic at the Transport Museum, so you can see some of the plans and designs on display,” he said.

“People tend to think of what’s on display when it comes to museum collections, when actually of the 1.4 million specimens in the collection, the majority are archive or research collections and not ever likely to be on display, but that doesn’t make them any less important.

“They are important for research reasons and this is a case in point.

The MV Schiedyk
The MV Schiedyk (National Museums NI/PA)

“For any organisation, whether it is a university or in this case the Canadian coastguard, we are in a position through this rehousing project to access the plans much more easily.

“With this particular ship, we had 40 plans and were able to provide much more comprehensive information in terms of the parts of the ship that the Canadian coastguard was particularly interested in.”

He added: “We will continue to support the Canadian coastguard to help protect and preserve the area of environmental significance and look forward to supporting other organisations as we need to into the future.”

The information supplied by National Museums NI will help inform the long-term strategies and tactics that will contain the shipwreck and protect the waters which are a popular destination for anglers, boaters and kayakers.

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In a statement the Canadian Coastguard said they are currently recovering oil that is coming to the surface.

“The next step is a technical assessment of the sunken ship. We anticipate that will be complete around the end of May,” they said.

“Once that assessment is complete, we will be have a better understanding of the condition of the ship as well as the types and estimated quantity of fuel onboard, and will determine appropriate actions for removal at that time.”

To find out more about National Museums NI and the national collections visit www.nmni.com.

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