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Crews pump 33,000 litres of water out of sinking James Whalen tugboat

City still looking into how the water entered the 116-year-old vessel, which is docked at the Kam River Heritage Park.
James Whalen Floated
The James Whalen tugboat had more than 33,000 litres of water pumped out in April 2021(Leith Dunick/

THUNDER BAY – A city official said more than 33,000 litres of water had to be pumped out of the 116-year-old James Whalen tubgoat.

Cory Halvoren, manager of parks and open spaces for the City of Thunder Bay, on Thursday said there’s still work to do to ensure the vessel is ship shape, noting some water still remains on board and crews have yet to figure out how it flowed inside.

A passerby on Wednesday noticed the tugboat, which has moored at a dock at the Kaministiquia River Heritage Park since 1992, had started sinking into the water. He noted its rear section dipping lower and lower beneath the water line.

“We immediately deployed some resources to access the boat so we could see. We expected it had been taking on water and that was the cause. When we got inside we confirmed that. We assessed the mooring connections,”  Halvorsen said.

“At first the mooring connections looked submerged and it looked possibly out of place, but upon further inspection we realized it was likely in place.”

Halvorsen said their inspection showed small amounts of water were still seeping inside, which is why they decided to act immediately.

“Rather than let it sit overnight, taking on more water, we obviously wanted to address that so we had some pumping facilities come and pump out the water – and it rose about two feet back up into position in its existing moorings,” Halvorsen said.

“At that point it had stabilized, so we locked it up for the night and had security on it to keep an eye on it. No change came overnight.”

Halvorsen said they marked the water levels to confirm where the historic tug was sitting on the water, just to be sure.

Next steps include removing the remainder of the water on board and trying to determine the location of the leak and how to fix it.

“We’re just going to have to assess our observations. There is still water left to pump out, so we’ll have to look at the most appropriate method to do that, so we can observe and determine where the source of the water is.”

Because there was virtually no change overnight, Halvorsen said he’s hopeful there isn’t a large source of water entering the boat.

At this time, it’s not possible to say how much it might cost to make any repairs that could be necessary.

Halvorsen said the city has had talks with the Lakehead Transportation Museum about the possibility of moving the James Whalen near the Alexander Henry on the Pool 6 property, but no decisions have yet been made at this time.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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