The Canadian coastguard has reached a fuel-laden Russian container ship that was dangerously adrift off the Pacific shore and threatening to cause an environmental catastrophe.

The Canadian Forces' Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC) said the Russian carrier Simushir had lost power off Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, as it made its way from Everett in Washington state to Russia.

If it hits where it's going to hit, this ship is going to be torn apart. We expect a catastrophic event and a huge disaster on our hands.

 Peter Lantin

A local aboriginal people had declared a state of emergency on Friday, fearing the ship would strike land and devastate the pristine coastline, which is home to a rich marine life and dozens of ancient village sites.

"The Haida Nation's worst fear is coming true," said group President Peter Lantin.

"If it hits where it's going to hit, this ship is going to be torn apart. We expect a catastrophic event and a huge disaster on our hands."

About 5,000 people live on the island and fish for food nearby, Lantin said.

The Council of the Haida Nation said late on Friday the Coastguard Ship Gordon Reid managed to secure a towline and the two vessels were moving away from the coastline at Gwaii Haanas at 1.5 knots.

The statement noted the situation remained highly tenuous, and the outcome was subject to weather.

Another coastguard ship was expected to arrive early Saturday and attempt to assist in towing the vessel to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, depending on weather.

"[The ship] has arrived on scene," Ron MacDougall of the JRCC told AFP.

The coastguard will not tow the Russian ship to land, but will stabilise it to make sure it does not run aground.

The JRCC in Victoria, British Columbia told AFP the 135-meter long Simushir was incapacitated in gale-force winds and swells seven meters high.

The ship is carrying 400 metric tonnes of bunker fuel and 60 metric tonnes of diesel.

Source: Agencies