The owner of a fishing boat that capsized on the Fraser River near Annacis Island south of Vancouver on Tuesday morning, says he scrambled to get off just moments before it sank.
Aerial images show the sheen from the spill stretched several kilometres down the river all the away to the Massey Tunnel.
A rope boom has since been spread around the boat to contain the fuel and a Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft was on the scene to assist with the environmental response.
The boat's owner Ronald Gibbs said the 80-foot Western Crusader, which he has owned for 12 years, had just been towed down from Campbell River and was at the marina for an inspection and hull maintenance.
Gibbs said when he went to bed at 10 p.m. PT everything was fine.
"Got woken up at 4 o'clock with gurgling pipes and stuff knocking and a huge starboard list, and I said, 'What's going on?"
After attempting to deploy a pump, the boat continued to list, so Gibbs and his girlfriend Gloria scrambled off just before it sank shortly before 5 a.m. PT.
"We stood up right here and she just keeled right over, " he said.
Gibbs said the boat was only used as a live aboard, and estimated the fuel tanks contained no more than 20 gallons of fuel. He said the sheen on the water was probably residue from the bilge and hydraulic fluid.
He speculated the transition to the freshwater, which made the boat sit lower in the water, may have contributed to the sinking. He plans to raise the boat with a crane in the coming days and continue with the repairs, he said.
The coast guard, which faced widespread criticism for its handling of an oil spill last month in Vancouver's English Bay, arrived at the scene around 7 a.m. PT he said.
Port Metro Vancouver spokesperson John Parker-Jervis says the fuel that escaped is light and likely unrecoverable. He says the coast guard would be responsible for recovering the diesel, if any cleanup is possible.
The Canadian Coast Guard is investigating and the marina has put fuel-absorbent pads around the vessel.