British Columbia

Transport Canada Minister Marc Garneau visits diesel spill near Bella Bella, B.C.

The Federal Minister of Transportation visited the northern B.C. town of Bella Bella Sunday, which has been battling a diesel spill from a tug that sank last month.

Heiltsuk chief councillor says Garneau said tanker ban would be put in place by the end of the year

A Heiltsuk First Nation member sits with a sign during a visit from Transport Canada Minister Marc Garneau. (Heiltsuk First Nation)

Federal Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau visited the northern coastal B.C. town of Bella Bella Sunday, which has been battling a diesel spill from a tug that sank last month.

The local Heiltsuk First Nation said Garneau toured the site of the spill and met with its hereditary and elected chiefs.

"We were obviously glad that he did take the time to come out and visit our community," said Heiltsuk chief councillor Marilyn Slett, adding that the visit was brief. 

Coastal storms and strong winds have marred the cleanup from the sunken tug, the American-owned Nathan E. Stewart, 

It ran aground while pushing an empty fuel barge through the Seaforth Channel shortly after midnight on Oct. 13; an estimated 110,000 litres of diesel and other petroleum products have spilled from its tanks. 

Transport Canada Minister Marc Garneau visited Bella Bella, B.C. after the sinking of American tugboat Nathan E. Stewart. (Heiltsuk First Nation)

'We cannot be a cautionary tale'

The Heiltsuk have repeatedly criticized the response to the spill and are pushing for better emergency response resources, safety and environmental stewardship. 

"I think what people are seeing is that we're not ready. And I'm not saying we as Heiltsuk, but British Columbia in general," Slett said in an interview.

"We're not ready for emergency response. And we cannot be a cautionary tale. There has to be learning from this going forward." 

The Heiltsuk have called the spill an environmental disaster for their coastal community. 

"We're mariners. We've been here for thousands and thousands of years — this is our life," Slett said. 

Trudeau announcement Monday

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to make an announcement about marine safety in Vancouver tomorrow.

Last November he called for a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic for B.C.'s North Coast.

Slett said Garneau assured the Heiltsuk that a tanker ban would be put in place by the end of the year. 

"We would like to reiterate our offer to Prime Minister Trudeau to make the tanker moratorium announcement here in Bella Bella," she said in a written release. 

"In the spirit of reconciliation and his government's promise to make relationships with indigenous nations a key focus, we can think of no better place, and no better time to make the announcement than in Heiltsuk territory this year."

The Heiltsuk said they would like to see the moratorium taken further to include a ban on tug barges like the Nathan E. Stewart, which they say can carry millions of litres of fuel when they're coupled with a barge. 

Garneau is the third federal minister to visit the spill. 

Heiltsuk First Nation members say they want to take a possible tanker ban on B.C.'s northwest coast further by also banning articulated tugs like the one that sank near their territory. (Heiltsuk First Nation)