The Port of Churchill has a new owner Arctic Gateway. Port of Churchill photo.
Arctic Gateway Group, the new owners of Churchill’s Port and the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR), have been greeted with a rocky start to their new venture. Saturday evening a freight train with three engines and 27 cars carrying petroleum derailed in the remote town of Ponton, Manitoba when a rail bridge gave out killing one and severely injuring another worker.
One rail worker has passed away and another is in hospital with serious, potentially life threatening injuries. RCMP confirmed that a 38 – year -old worker was deceased and another 59 – year -old was in grave condition after being extricated from the locomotive. Both workers hailed from The Pas, Manitoba, the end point of the HBR.
“Sadly, one of our employees working on the locomotive has been confirmed by authorities as deceased. A second employee has sustained serious injuries and has been airlifted to hospital,” says a statement issued by the Arctic Gateway Group, the company that operates the railway. “The RCMP is in the process of notifying the families.
“The Arctic Gateway Group will be also be making direct contact with family members and all of our employees and communities in the coming days as we all attempt to cope with this tragedy,” the statement continued.
RCMP responded to the derailment around 5:45 p.m. Saturday via helicopter after a pilot of another helicopter spotted the wreckage 145 kilometers southwest of Thompson, Manitoba, the hub of the region.
Sunday, RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Paul Manaigre stated that due to the remote location of the crash site, the derailment might have happened “hours” prior to police arriving on scene. According to Manaigre, both of the trapped men were conscious and responsive to officers when they arrived.
One of the men stated that no bridge was seen as they emerged from a turn in the track.
“I can’t imagine — it’s not like a vehicle, you can’t stop right away — once they saw that I imagine they knew what was coming,” Manaigre said, adding investigators are still looking into whether or not the bridge was standing at the time.
“We’re not sure, was it washed out or was it just partially damaged and when the train went over it took the rest of it out? Obviously there’s a few scenarios that have to be examined.
“The focus is going to be on what happened in front of that locomotive prior to the derailment.”
Speed of the train when the accident occurred has yet to be determined by investigators according to Manaigre.
President of AGT Foods, Murad Al-Katib, a partner in Arctic Gateway Group has been on scene.
“It’s very, very early, but we will do our best to give further updates,” he said.
“Our hearts are heavy today, and we are very sorry for our loss and our prayers are with the families.”
With the danger of petroleum leaking out of the derailed train cars, HAZMAT crews have been on location to mitigate any spills. However, at this point the Arctic Gateway Group said they don’t believe any leakage from rail cars has occurred.
“The Arctic Gateway Group is monitoring this situation very closely, and we have been advised that at this time there does not appear to be any significant environmental danger to nearby areas resulting from the derailment,” says the statement from the company.
An investigation by Transport Canada is ongoing with assistance from RCMP.
Transport Canada said two inspectors are at the derailment site and have confirmed none of the cars are leaking In a statement released late Sunday.
Railroad ties owned by Omnitrax in the Pas were destroyed by arson. RCMP photo.
A $5,000 reward is being offered by Omnitrax Canada for information that helps locate an arsonist that destroyed about $1 million worth of railroad ties that were to be used this summer on the Hudson Bay rail – line.
Fire lit up the sky around 5:30 a.m. in The Pas Monday morning from the Hudson Bay Railway yard. With relations strained between local residents and Omnitrax due to their recent abandonment of the Port of Churchill, communities all along the Hudson Bay rail-line are running high on emotions.
Omnitrax will offer the bounty to someone who can supply information leading to both an arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the fire. Fortunately, no people were injured during the blaze.
“We are very troubled by this terrible act,” Omnitrax Canada president Merv Tweed said in a release.
The company has set up a tip line at 204-947-0033. The local RCMP number is 204-627-6204.
Nunuvut’s government is staking claim to artifacts from the HMS Erebus – one of two ships from the ill – fated Sir John Franklin expedition of 1845. Nunavut is refusing to issue Parks Canada dive permits unless Parks Canada relinquishes rights to artifacts found and retrieved from the seabed at the wreck sight of the Erebus in the waters of Victoria Strait, just off the coast of King William Island where it was discovered in September 2014. The Erebus is thought to be the ship on which Franklin perished during the ill fated expedition. The other lost ship, HMS Terror has yet to be found.
Parks Canada finally relented to the Nunavut request after realizing their divers could face arrest by the RCMP. Permission from Nunavut’s director of heritage must now be consulted before retrieving any artifacts from the site.
One of the cannons from the HMS Erebu is lifted to the surface during last year’s artifact recovery mission in the Arctic. Thierry Boyer/Parks Canada photo.
In addition to Nunavut, other claimants to the Erebus’ artifacts include the Kitikmeot Inuit, who claim ownership under a land claims treaty, as well as the British, who, since the ships and expedition were of British origin, and based on an agreement drafted in 1997, possess rights to claim any artifacts of “outstanding significance” to their Royal Navy. The agreement between Canada and Britain recognize ownership of the wrecks and their contents by Britain, though it acknowledges Britain will ultimately gift ownership to Canada of everything, except gold, recovered from the wrecks.
Parks Canada diver surveys the HMS Erebus. Parks Canada photo.
“During the permit application process for the spring 2015 ice dive on HMS Erebus, the government of Nunavut included a condition that denied Parks Canada the authorization to recover artifacts from the wreck site,” says a briefing note for Leona Aglukkaq, who was then the environment minister.
The federal cabinet has subsequently declared the HMS Erebus wreck and surrounding waters a national historic site, which took precedence over Nunavut’s permit regulations. However the wreck of the Terror, Franklin’s second lost ship is presumed to be outside the historical site designation therefore creating the same issues and subject to Nunavut’s initial claim of jurisdiction for the HMS Erebus artifacts.
Diver inspects the hull of the HMS Erebus preserved by the Arctic waters. Parks Canada photo.
This summer Parks Canada will return to the Erebus wreck site to document artifacts and then continue nearby areas to the north to search for the elusive HMS Terror as well. Hopefully all the ownership and jurisdiction tug – of – wars will ease enough to allow divers to expedite the process before the artifacts are scattered.
A portion of the Erebus steering wheel found at the site. Parks Canada photo.
A crewman’s boot in good condition was found at the site of the Erebus. Parks Canada photo.
A retired RCMP, recently convicted and sentenced of illegally smuggling narwhal tusks into the United States from Canada, has been extradited to the U.S. on related money-laundering charges in Maine. A New Jersey man, Andrew Zarauskas has also was convicted in 2014 and is currently serving time in prison. Jay Conrad from Tennessee awaits trial.
Narwhals in the Arctic. National Institute of Standards and Technology via Wikimedia Commons photo.
Gregory Logan, 58, of Woodmans Point, N.B., is being held in custody pending his trial date of May 3 in U.S. District Court in Bangor, Maine
Charges include smuggling of 250 narwhal tusks with a value of over two million US dollars into the United States by concealing them in false compartments in his vehicle. Prosecution asserts that Logan had been transporting tusks across the border since 2000 when he was still employed by the RCMP. He allegedly brokered the tusks to private collectors and then transferred the funds outside the US.
Narwhal tusks that were evidence in the trial of Andrew J. Zarauskas. Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN photo.
Logan, whom was fined $385,000 and four months house arrest under an eight month conditional sentence, faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000 US with the money laundering charges in the states.
“As this case shows, wildlife trafficking can involve millions in illegal transactions, compounding the damage it does to the wealth and diversity of life on our planet,” Assistant Attorney General John Cruden, of the Justice Department’s environment and natural resource’s division, said in a statement. By pursuing the criminal financial transactions that flow from trafficking, we are making [it] a less attractive and more costly enterprise.”
Narwhals live year-round in the Arctic and are a protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Law prohibits importing narwhals, or any of their parts, into the United States, barring a special permit, under the Marine Mammal protection Act. Spiraled tusks, found predominately in males are actually a tooth protruding through the upper jaw, reach up to ten feet and can fetch nearly $100 an inch on the black market.
Co – conspirators Andrew Zarauskas, of Union, New Jersey,has already been convicted and sentenced to nearly three years in prison while Jay Conrad, of Lakeland, Tennessee, has plead guilty and awaits sentencing.
Andrew J. Zarauskas of Union, N.J. (left) was convicted of smuggling narwhal tusks into the US from Canada. Gabor Degre | BDN photo.
Evidence at trial showed Zarauskas, 61, doubled his money on the $85,000 he paid Logan between 2002 and 2008 for approximately 33 tusks. What was particularly egregious about Zarauskas’ case was that he was working as a confidential informer for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a separate case that did not involve narwhal tusk smuggling.
The polar bear season has transitioned from Fall to Winter in a little less than a week and now the snow keeps coming. Today, sideways blowing snow and a harsh north wind has put the routine mid – season scare of an early Hudson Bay freeze -up into everyone’s head. This really does happen every year when the first sign of grease ice – slowly undulating surface ice that flows around like grease or oil on top of the water- appears along the coast. Yes it’s around -30 with the wind-chill factor and no relief predicted in the near future …but, all it takes is a good south wind and that ice will be pushed out and gobbled up by the bay. The Churchill River has already developed some pans a little south of the “flats’ area…mostly because of the higher percentage of fresh water flowing out. The upside to freezing of course is the increase in polar bear numbers as well as activity along the coast.
This report by a Natural Habitat guide gives an indication as to how the wildlife activity has escalated rather quickly and dramatically:
“Woke to a blustery, snowy morning just had that feeling that it was going to be a GREAT day! Headed east to Gordon Point and initially saw bear lurking in the willows after first tower. We could see two bears along the coast skating on freshly frozen ponds and investing ice forming along the shores of the bay.. Sooner than later we had two males sparring in front of us, slipping as they played on a frozen pond. We stayed there for quite a while. For lunch we decided to explore the coast road between Gordon Point and out east….creeping along the coast we found a bear right off the road digging in the seaweed. We decided to stay put, shut down and have lunch… That bear got curious…and totally gave us the show we all dream of…investigating under the back deck -grate, standing and leaning up against the vehicle, etc… All told we saw 13 bears!Total blizzard conditions in town tonight. Let’s hope the wind dies down…for another epic day…”
Polar bear track in the fresh snow. Brad Josephs photo.
Natural Habitat guide Karen Walker had her group out at Cape Merry bustling with action and cold in the biting wind. Driver/guide Koral told some stories of the Hudson Bay Co. and the Jens Munk expedition. After getting up enough nerve to trek up to the Cape Merry battery, the group headed out into the biting wind. What an exhilarating rush to stand up on the cape Merry bluff in the frigid cold and gaze out over the Hudson Bay and see Fort Prince of Wales across the Churchill River. On the winding road back a stop off at the Anglican Church at the edge of town for some history on the Franklin Expedition and a chance to see some amazing stained glass windows in the church itself and the most famous of them all,,the Lady Franklin Window. The soft light of daytime is a perfect time to view them.
Close – up of the Lady Franklin stained glass window Photo Karen Walker
That night, in a storm on an evening rover trip, night rover, everyone’s expectations for polar bear sightings were low. However, luckily a bear at the end of the lodge.The driver was able to able to pull right up next to him. His head was resting on his front paw and his short legs extended out back behind him, laying on his belly.Later he came right up to the vehicle for a visit. Quite a solitary experience.
The next day,the travelers headed out toward Gordon Point and happened upon a couple of young adult males sparring.They put on quite a show for several rovers in the area. Amazing how they can just ignore these massive vehicles and go about their business.Later, traveling down Ptarmigan Alley, the group spotted a few other polar bears walking across the frozen ponds or thermakarsts. Bears can move freely now across the tundra with no open water in their way to divert them. Photographing them moving across these surfaces is optimal.
One of the highlights of the trip came the following day, departure day, exploring along Goose Creek Road. “As we crossed Goose Creek, a guest saw something dark below the bridge,running up the frozen creek. It turned out to be a wolverine! (This was my first wolverine sighting ever!!!).” stated Karen. Further upstream, some other animals were moving around.They turned out to be a cross fox and three river otters! “It was interesting watching all three species of critters encountering each other, but no attack occurred.” she added. ” While this was happening on our left, a beautiful red fox appeared downstream on our right.This fox was much closer, so the guests’ attention was drawn to him. He later made an appearance for us while we were at the marina observation tower.” reported Karen The partially frozen creek with the frost on the trees & the new snow made it into a winter wonderland out there. Wow, what a morning!!!
A red fox gazes curiously at some guests. Brad Josephs photo.
Four guests also went flightseeing on a helicopter and saw a moose as well as some bears along the coast. Some other travelers went dog sledding with Kelly and Churchill River Mushing and had an amazing time. Back in the warming tent hot cocoa and trail stories warmed the blood. What a trip!
This dramatic weather change proved timely for Natural Habitat photo group and their guide Colby Brokvist. upon arrival the group took some dramatic pics of the stone inukshuk by the Hudson Bay. In addition to the fantastic red light reflecting off the cloud filled sky, the group set up some spotlights for a dramatic affect.
The following day on the tundra, a playful young female polar bear greeted the rover right off. later near Gordon Point revealed some bears up-close and some light sparring activity. The rocky frozen coastline with chunks of tidal ice combined with amazing sunlight made for varied, interesting shots. On the way back to launch,a sow with two cubs set against a background of soft glowing sun and silhouetted stunted spruce trees made for epic photos.
Action packed sparring near the lodge. Colby Brokvist photo.
The final two days on the land were highlighted by sparring bears at the tundra lodge and close looks at a snowy owl just near a little esker. Then a bear on the rocks just past the airport. Back out at the lodge three sets of sparring bears kept shutters clicking incessantly . One set, later morning, was only 20 yards off the rover’s side and close in action shots were captured. The ride back provided more chances for snowy owl shots.
In other news, for the second consecutive year, conservation officers and RCMP raided Brian Ladoon’s dog compound at mile 5 and removed six bears lurking around for “dog” rations. His mafiaesque photo nad tour business seems to be doomed at this point.
“Cracker shots throughout town the last two nights. Things are ramping up here!”, reports Colby.