Oil spill fears remain one year after bunker fuel fouled Vancouver beaches

Coast Guard still working on improving communication, training after MV Marathassa incident at English Bay

The MV Marathassa spilled at least 2

VANCOUVER — When the MV Marathassa leaked at least 2,700 litres of bunker fuel into Vancouver’s harbour one year ago, the effects of the spill reached far beyond the city’s picturesque waters and beaches.

Delays in clean-up and notification of the city sparked public outrage, drew attention to Conservative cuts to the Canadian Coast Guard and prompted a flurry of campaign promises from the New Democrats and Liberals.

The miscommunication and uncertainty of roles that caused the delays were revealed months later in an independent report, which made a number of recommendations that the coast guard says it is implementing.

But city manager Sadhu Johnston says despite improvements made by the federal government — including reopening the Kitsilano coast guard base and working toward a regional response plan — fears about oil spills still loom large.

“Not a ton has changed since last year,” he said. “There’s been planning and engagement together, but we’re still not there yet. We’re still not ready for a major tanker spill in this region.”

Spill highlighted tanker concerns

The spill on April 8, 2015, while relatively small, happened when concerns were running high in Vancouver about increased tanker traffic that would be caused by Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

A passing boater first reported seeing oil in English Bay just before 5 p.m. But due to a series of miscommunications, cleanup organization Western Canada Marine Response Corp. wasn’t activated until about 8 p.m., says an independent report commissioned by the coast guard and written by retired assistant commissioner John Butler.

Butler’s report also says the province failed to promptly alert the city because the extent of the spill hadn’t been realized. City staff didn’t learn of the incident until 6 a.m. on April 9, around the same time an oil-absorbing boom was installed around the ship.

Coun. Andrea Reimer said the incident involving a bulk grain carrier revealed serious gaps in preparedness and response that would be critical during a larger spill from an oil tanker.

“We do not have confidence that there’s anywhere near the capacity that would be needed to deal with existing oil shipments, let alone vastly increased ones under an expanded pipeline proposal.”

Michael Davies, senior director of marine development at Kinder Morgan Canada, said an extra $100 million will go to Western Canada Marine Response Corp., which includes 100 new people at five bases.

“While there are certainly differing views on the (Trans Mountain pipeline expansion), one has to see the marine enhancements as an overall benefit to spill response.”

Coast Guard drafting regional response plan

The Canadian Coast Guard said in a statement it has made significant progress, either completing or initiating all of Butler’s recommendations. Staff have received additional training, notification procedures have been improved, and four major spill response exercises were undertaken last year.

The Liberal government included $23.59 million in this year’s budget to fulfill its campaign promise to reopen the Kitsilano coast guard base, a station that’s close to the spill site that was shuttered by the Conservatives in 2013.

The coast guard is also in the final drafting stages of a response plan for Greater Vancouver, which will inform how organizations including the coast guard, city agencies and Western Marine Response Corp. work together if there’s a spill.

“This was really the first time that all these different entities worked together on this type of incident,” said Michael Lowry, communications manager for Western Marine Response Corp. “It’s pretty clear that it would be a bit smoother the next time around if there was some more planning that was done in advance.”

The corporation has purchased new equipment to improve its ability to assess the severity of spills, including drones and a blimp that can be launched from its vessels with an infrared camera that works in fog or at night, Lowry said.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said while marine spills are a federal responsibility, the province has introduced legislation to establish new requirements for spill preparedness, response and recovery, and to create new penalties and offences.

Transport Canada launched an investigation of the spill last year with the potential for charges or fines against the vessel’s owners. The federal agency did not respond to a request for comment.

Alassia NewShips Management, the Greece-based operator of the MV Marathassa, said in a statement it has been co-operating with authorities and expressed its appreciation to all who assisted with the response.

“The legacy of any incident must be to understand exactly what happened so that it will not happen again and we are committed to that.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Team BC’s having fun, ‘feeling good’ about back-to-back victories

A junior curling team, based out of Langley, has yet to lose a game in the national championships.

Dr. Lipjob avoids jail, gets 30-day suspended sentence

She will have to serve the 30 days in prison if she commits a breach during her two-year’s probation

Surrey farmers taking stock of revamped Canada Food Guide

Products that were once big at the table — like meat and dairy — have been put on the back-burner

VIDEO: ‘The dog picks the job’: Meet the newest member of the Surrey RCMP

Cambria, a labrador-golden retriever mix, is the first victim services dog at the detachment

Cloverdale’s Dan Gibbons remembered for his devotion, humour

Longtime local served with RCMP for more than 35 years

Canada’s archive buys rare book that hints at Nazi plans for North America

The 1944 book may have served as a blueprint for a Nazi purge

Teravainen’s 3 points lift Hurricanes to 5-2 win over Canucks

Vancouver heads into all-star break on losing note

B.C. hospital apologizes for veteran’s five-day hallway stay

Clinical director of Victoria General Hospital says case of retired veteran ‘definitely excessive’

Speaker Darryl Plecas says ‘justice’ needed for legislature employees

Plecas spoke to media at the opening of a pedestrian and cycling bridge in Abbotsford Wednesday

Advocate hopes B.C. legislature scandal leads to more transparency

‘Depressing’ that it takes a scandal to inspire freedom of information reform, says Sara Neuert

Ex-Mountie involved in Taser death at Vancouver airport sues government

Kwesi Millington claims he acted in accordance with RCMP training

47 men arrested by Vancouver police for allegedly seeking sex with teenage girls

Seven of those arrested have been charged as part of a two-month operation

Richmond businesses struggle to hire and keep staff because of high cost of housing

Chamber of commerce calls for diverse housing options, redevelopment of George Massey corridor

LETTER: Seniors home care, day programs expanding, Adrian Dix says

B.C. health minister responds to latest Seniors Advocate report

Most Read