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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - An oil spill from a cargo vessel that ran aground near Montreal has forced the closure of a section of the important St. Lawrence Seaway shipping route until at least Wednesday.
Canada Steamship Lines' M/V Richelieu, which was carrying wheat, ran aground near the Cote Sainte-Catherine canal lock south of Montreal on Monday evening. The accident punctured the ship's fuel tank, leaking between 50 and 200 tonnes of bunker oil into the surrounding waters.
The South Shore Canal and the lock remained closed to support clean-up efforts by the Canadian Coast Guard as well as federal and provincial governments.
The leak has been contained and navigation will not resume until oil is removed from the channel, Andrew Bogora, a spokesman for the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp, said on Tuesday.
"First objective is to vacuum, if you will, the bunker fuel from the water," Bogora said. "Second step will be to remediate the banks of the canal."
Six ships are at anchor, waiting for the canal to reopen, possibly as early as Wednesday, Bogora said. He said he did not have information on environmental damage from the spill.
The Seaway, owned by the Canadian and U.S. governments, links central North America via the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and is a major shipping route for bulk commodities such as iron ore, steel, coal and grain.
In Ottawa, Transport Minister John Baird said government officials are watching the cleanup closely. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating the accident.
"We have tough regulations in this country and we'll do our level best to enforce them," Baird told reporters.
The Richelieu was experiencing propulsion problems while outbound on the Seaway and dropped anchors to regain control, CSL Group said in a statement. However, a sudden squall may have caused it to shift position and strike one of the anchors, puncturing a fuel tank.
The effect of water entering the tank caused fuel to vent onto the main deck, which could not be contained because of high winds and rain, CSL said. Divers have confirmed the fuel tank is not leaking, the company said.
The vessel was carrying 24,700 tonnes of wheat owned by the Canadian Wheat Board, said board spokesman John Lyons.
The incident did not damage the wheat, which the board was shipping from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Quebec City for storage, he said.
"If it's resolved in a timely manner, there isn't going to be any big impact for us whatsoever," Lyons said.
A Great Lakes vessel like the Richelieu typically costs C$25,000 ($24,300) a day to operate, Bogora said. With six vessels currently idled, the spill could cost shipping companies about C$300,000 in total if the closure lasts two days.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson and Peter Galloway