B.C. communities await marine spill compensation years after incidents

The government maintains a Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund to compensate Canadians

A spill response boat monitors a boom placed around the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa after a bunker fuel spill on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Despite “polluter pay” laws in Canada, local governments and agencies are still waiting to recover costs incurred during two significant fuel spills off British Columbia’s coast.

The City of Vancouver and Vancouver Aquarium are collectively waiting on nearly $700,000 in losses related to a 2015 leak of bunker fuel, while the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bellla continues negotiating over $200,000 in repayments for its response to a tugboat that ran aground in 2016.

Transport Canada, which oversees spill response, said in a statement that under the current regime, ship owners are strictly liable for spills — up to a limit based on the size of the vessel — and all vessels must have insurance for oil pollution damages.

The government also maintains a Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund to compensate Canadians, including businesses and local governments, when costs are beyond what a ship owner covers or when the source is unknown.

In the days following the 2,700-litre fuel leak in Vancouver’s English Bay, Transport Canada claimed the bulk carrier ship the MV Marathassa was the source.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement that the Canadian Coast Guard spent more than $2.4 million in its response to the leak.

That money was repaid by the federal pollution fund after the government and vessel owner “were unable to come to an agreement in a timely manner,” the statement said.

The City of Vancouver said it spent $500,000 on staff salaries, equipment costs and third-party groups to help in the cleanup.

Spokesman Jag Sandhu said the city asked for compensation from the ship’s owner but has since filed a claim with the federal pollution fund.

Peter Ross, a scientist with the Vancouver Aquarium, said roughly $180,000 was spent on environmental testing when little information was being released immediately after the fuel spill.

READ MORE: Last-ditch pipeline court challenge going ahead

READ MORE: ‘I dare you’: B.C. councillor calls out feds in pipeline dispute

The aquarium draws water from English Bay, Ross said, and staff were concerned that the fuel posed a risk to its wildlife.

“We basically acknowledged it was going to be expensive but it was really an exceptional circumstance where we couldn’t really worry about the money at that point, we had to know whether our collection was at risk,” he said.

Ross said the tests found fuel reached beaches in Porty Moody, roughly 12 kilometres away, and mussels collected in English Bay had taken up oil.

Ross said the aquarium was negotiating compensation with the owners of the Marathassa and had been offered about 20 cents for every dollar spent, which he called unacceptable.

“These are not damages we’re inventing out of emotional trauma or anything, these are damages associated with direct costs, direct financial outlay and liability associated with the incident,” he said.

Lawyer Peter Swanson, who is representing the vessel, declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations, which he said are confidential.

Alassia NewShips Management Inc., the operator of the Marathassa, also declined to comment.

The Marathassa is facing 10 environment-related charges in B.C. provincial court, including allegations it violated the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environment Protection Act. Hearings are scheduled through to May.

Alassia faces similar charges, but a B.C. Court of Appeal decision earlier this year determined the Greek company has not been properly served a summons, preventing allegations from going ahead.

In Bella Bella, a community of 1,600 people along B.C.’s central coast, the Heiltsuk Nation said it’s still working to recover $200,000 paid out in its response to the spill of 107,000 litres of diesel and 2,240 litres of lubricants from the Nathan E. Stewart in Oct. 2016.

Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett said $150,000 went to resources such as offices, boats and staff while $50,000 went to monitoring and testing at the site.

Slett said the nation was in negotiations with vessel owners Kirby Offshore Marine, based in Houston, but nothing had been settled.

Kirby did not respond to requests for comment.

Slett said the community continues to feel the effects of the spill, its commercial clam fishery remains closed and they are concerned about other affected species.

“We’re doing some testing with the purpose of understanding the health of the resources and the ecosystem and the safety of consuming the resources,” she said, adding the ocean is considered the nation’s “breadbasket.”

Slett said the Heiltsuk is gathering materials for a possible legal claim against the company.

“We didn’t expect it would take this long and we didn’t expect that there would be issues with them paying for their own costs for a spill they were responsible for in Heiltsuk territory,” she said.

Vancouver lawyer Christopher Giaschi, who specializes in maritime and transportation law, said the two cases appear to be exceptional and the legal framework is effective, with most claims involving small spills resolved within a year.

Transport Canada said in a statement the new Oceans Protection Plan will strengthen the current system by allowing unlimited compensation from the federal pollution fund, amending the tax paid by industry to increase the fund when depleted, and speed up access to that money for responders and communities that need it.

But Ross said the aquarium’s experience has been “demoralizing” and he hopes the incident is not reflective of the shipping industry.

“What does it say about any tanker coming in and out of Vancouver?” he said. “What does it say when we have a 3,000-litre spill and the responsible party fights tooth and nail and then ends up offering one quarter of what the damages are? I don’t know. It’s absolutely beyond me.”

Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Surrey building that has gathered dust for 20 years is for sale again, with bids sought

Potential sale of the long-vacant 104 Avenue Centre is good news, Surrey Board of Trade CEO says

WATCH: Goalie from North Delta scores in AHL hockey game

Tristan Jarry makes history for Penguins by hitting an empty net

OUR VIEW: Stop politicizing homicides

If not out of respect for the dead, at least out of respect for the living

Metro Vancouver mayors face tough decision on SkyTrain versus light rail

Surrey’s mayor is pushing for SkyTrain, saying he can keep costs low

Health Minister opens ‘urgent primary care’ centre in Surrey

The centres were a promise of the NDP along the campaign trail, and the Surrey location is the fourth to open in B.C.

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

No charges against cop accused of stuffing money into sock during search

BC Prosecution Service says not enough evidence against Abbotsford officer

Many child killers have been placed in Indigenous healing lodges according to stats

As of mid-September, there were 11 offenders in healing lodges who had been convicted of first- or second-degree murder of a minor

Sex-misconduct survey excludes vulnerable military members: Survivors’ group

But It’s Just 700 says recent research has shown young military members and those on training are among those most at risk for sexual violence

Threat of extremism posed by proportional representation overstated: academics

As B.C. voters decide on electoral reform, the Vote No side is cautioning that the system would allow extremists to be elected

What now for Calgary, Canada and Olympic Games after 2026 rejection?

Calgary, along with the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., made Canada a player in the international sport community

Expect no quick end to Canada-wide cannabis shortages, producers warn

Provinces including British Columbia, Alberta have all reported varying degrees of shortages

‘Scrap-metal sweetie’ makes Langley centrefold

Most pictures in Langley’s 2019 firefighters’ calendar feature members with their own pets.

Want to buy your first home? Move to Kamloops or Prince George

Kamloops, Prince George, Campbell River and Langford are the only other markets in the study without gaps between required and actual income in owning a home.

Most Read