On March 15, 1979, the British motor tanker Kurdistan, en route from Nova Scotia to Quebec,
broke in two sections south of Cabot Strait, Newfoundland.
The damage was attributed to a fracture initiated by a weld defect
and aggravated by wave impacts on the bow at low temperatures.
Although the tanker remained intact for some time after the initial hull plate failure,
the bow and stern sections eventually separated
and spilled an estimated 43,900 barrels of Bunker C into Cabot Strait.
The bow and stern sections drifted towards Canadian waters.
Approximately 50,000 barrels of oil remained in the bow section
while 115,000 barrels remained in the stern.
A wide band of mobile pack ice initially prevented the spilled oil from reaching the shoreline.
The Environmental Protection Service (EPS) immediately initiated the formation
of the Regional Environmental Emergencies Team (REET)
to provide assistance and advice to the Canadian Coast Guard's (CCG) On-Scene Commander (OSC).
REET members included the Atmospheric Environment Service,
Bedford Institute of Oceanography, and Fisheries Management Service.
The REET was divided into three sections to deal with the three distinct problems:
the bow, the stern, and the oil spill cleanup.
Under Lloyds Open Forum, the stern section was towed to Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia,
to recover remaining oil.
The bow section was towed to a deep water area 200 nautical miles off Nova Scotia
and sunk by gunfire from the HMCS Margaree on April 1, 1979.
Oil started coming ashore in April
and two cleanup control centers were established at Low Point and Mulgrave, Nova Scotia.
The oil continued to contaminate shorelines along the eastern coast of Nova Scotia throughout the summer.
Bunker C fuel oil is a heavy product with an API gravity that ranges from 7 to 14.
The oil slick movement was very difficult to track and monitor
because the oil appeared to float a meter or two below the surface of the water.
Ice-oil mixtures, first seen on March 23, moved to the northwest
during the following two days at a mean rate of 8 to 10 miles per day.
Oil first came ashore on March 28,
although the majority of oil did not come ashore until mid-April, after shore-fast ice was gone.
Oil on the beaches was not in the form of mousse as expected, rather,
it consisted of "toffee-like" particles ranging in diameter from millimeters to several meters.
The Cape Breton shoreline and the mainland coast of Nova Scotia were most severely contaminated.
Oil washed ashore in varying amounts from St. Ann's Bay in north Cape Breton
to as far south as Canso in Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.