British Columbia

A year after Marathassa, Vancouver still not prepared for an oil spill, says city

A year to the day after the cargo ship MV Marathassa spilled several thousand litres of bunker fuel into Vancouver's English Bay, concerns remain about the region's ability to put together a coordinated clean-up response.

Federal and provincial officials are still working on coordinated response plan

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/Canadian Press)

A year after the cargo ship MV Marathassa spilled several thousand litres of bunker fuel into Vancouver's English Bay, concerns remain about the region's ability to put together a coordinated clean-up response.

"I don't think we as a region are ready for a major spill, says Vancouver city manager Sadhu Johnston.

He says last year's spill, which was limited to the fuel from a cargo ship, was actually fairly small compared to what could happen if an oil tanker passing through the harbour were to run into trouble.

"The fact of the matter is West Coast Marine Response Corporation still doesn't have the capacity to clean up the quantities of a spill like that."

Delays in the federal governments' response to the Marathassa spill provoked widespread condemnation from both city and provincial officials.

A review of Marathassa spill concluded that miscommunication and uncertainty over roles delayed containment and clean-up.

File photo of oil previously found on Second Beach in Vancouver in 2015 by Dr. Peter Ross from Vancouver Aquarium. (Vancouver Aquarium)

Response plan still not done

Johnston notes while the city is working with federal and provincial officials on a better response plan, a year later there is nothing in place yet.

"We still don't have a region response plan. It is still under development and will be in place later this year, but it is still not done," say Johnston

"One of the biggest frustrations that we had last year was that there really wasn't a plan. The coast guard just really didn't have a spill response plan. As a result we were really just in reaction mode."

He says they city has taken its own actions, including ordering new fire boats equipped with oil spill booms,

The city is encouraged by plans to re-open the coast guard's Kitsilano Station.

"This incident a year ago demonstrated the importance of having that station open, so we are really glad to see that."

He also notes communication between the city and coast guard officials has already improved.

"The coast guard has really stepped up in terms of notification. We've seen huge improvements there."

With tanker traffic expected to increase in B.C. due to the oil and LNG industry a new non-profit has been established to conduct research on best practices. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

'Small spill ... huge lesson'

Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance agrees, that while the lessons from the MV Marathassa spill are clear, the lack of a plan remains a concern.

"This was a small spill that was able to teach us a huge lesson," says Wilhelmson.

"The Marathassa spill showed us there was poor communication, no planning — it was just seriously flawed. It seemed that many levels of government got the message that we need to do a better job."

Wilhelmson says she is hopeful the current consultations will result in better coordination with local governments. She also says more efforts have been made to make industry and polluters acountable for clean-up efforts.

But like Johnston, she remains concerned about plans by Kinder Morgan to nearly triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and dramatically increase the number of tankers carrying crude oil through Vancouver Harbour.

"The truth is if we have a diluted bitumen spill, we are done. A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences show that bitumen sinks. We have no means if cleaning it up. If we have a diluted bitumen spill, our coast will never be the same.

With files from Farrah Merali, Lien Yeung



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