The oil spill in Vancouver's English Bay last week was relatively small, but the highly toxic bunker fuel spread quickly, and will keep washing up on beaches, said city manager Penny Ballem in an update to council.

Ballem said it's still not clear exactly how much Bunker C fuel oil spilled from the grain ship Marathassa on April 8, despite estimates from the coast guard that approximately 2,700 litres were released.

But Ballem said the fuel is highly toxic and very viscose or thick, so it forms globs that are carried to distant beaches, including some 12 kilometres away from the spill site at New Brighton Park in East Vancouver.

Vancouver fuel spill 20150409 Marathassa April 9 2015

People sit on the shore at Sunset Beach after bunker fuel leaked from the cargo ship Marathassa, upper right, anchored on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"It's a nasty kind of fuel," she told council Tuesday morning.

Ninety per cent of the fuel released has been cleaned up, according to a coast guard update Tuesday.

However, Ballem said, there is still bunker fuel stuck below the ship, that crews are working to surface and contain with the booms, and cleanup continues on beaches and the hull of the ship.

"There's a bathtub ring around the ship that's very significant and it's quite toxic," said Ballem.

Vancouver Coastal Health said there is no timeline for when closed beaches will be reopened and considered safe for people and pets.

Oil globs will continue to wash up

The city expects that oil globs of the toxic bunker fuel will continue to wash up on city beaches, and Ballem said there needs to be a plan to deal with ongoing contamination.

Oil globules have been found on the shore in the following locations, as far as 12 kilometres from the original source said Ballem:

  • English Bay Beach
  • Sunset Beach
  • Second Beach
  • Third Beach
  • Siwash Rock
  • Crab Park
  • New Brighton Park
  • Inner Coal Harbour

False Creek itself is safe for boating and paddling activity, said Dr. James Lu of Vancouver Coastal Health, but beaches north of False Creek remain closed.

Lu encouraged the public to obey signage urging them to stay off beaches.

Beach signs

Vancouver Coastal Health is urging the public to observe and obey signs like this on city beaches. (CBC)