British Columbia

Owner of stricken tugboat apologizes for diesel spill

Stormy, wet weather has thwarted efforts to assess the fallout of a sunken tugboat leaking diesel in a remote region off British Columbia's central coast.

'We deeply regret this incident,' says tugboat owner

Crews work to contain a diesel spill after the tugboat, Nathan E. Stewart, ran aground last week in the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella. (Ian McAllister)

The owner of a tugboat that crashed in a remote region off British Columbia's Central Coast has apologized for the accident that leaked thousands of litres of fuel into the Pacific.

"We sincerely apologize for the impact this has had on the Heiltsuk Nation and all the people of British Columbia," said Jim Guidry, executive vice-president of vessel operations for Kirby Offshore Marine.

"We deeply regret this incident."

Stormy weather has so far thwarted efforts to assess the fallout of the accident.

All small boats involved in the salvage effort were ordered to stand down Thursday, including crews responsible for environmental sampling, wildlife surveys and shoreline assessment for eventual clean-up operations.

Crews have recovered less than half of the 200,000 litres of fuel from the Nathan E. Stewart, which ran aground — along with an empty fuel barge — and sank Oct. 13 in Seaforth Channel, about 20 kilometres west of Bella Bella.

The latest joint situation report said divers located diesel on the roof of the engine room, which they intend to vacuum out before emptying the boat's submerged fuel tanks.

The tugboat Nathan E. Stewart lies submerged in the Seathforth Channel near Bella Bella. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Members of the Heiltsuk First Nation were scheduled to begin clam fishing in just a few weeks, but the spill has closed beaches.

Spill may affect clam harvest

The Heiltsuk have said their livelihoods depend on the clam harvest and they fear the clam beds will be harmed, similar to what happened when the Queen of the North sank a decade ago.

Jim Guidry of Kirby Offshore Marine has apologized for the accident and praised Heiltsuk First Nation members for their "tremendous" response. (Chris Brown)

Guidry with Kirby Offshore Marine praised Heiltsuk First Nation members for their speedy reaction to the sinking but said ​he didn't know what caused the accident.

For now, the company is focused on the cleanup, he said.

After that, "We are going to look back on (those early hours) to see what we could have done and maybe should have done."

Some experts say the spill is a wake-up call as the provincial and federal governments consider giving permission for larger vessels carrying far greater volumes of fuel in Canada's West Coast waters.

Peter Hodson, an ecotoxicologist and professor of environmental studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., said bad weather is "endemic" in the region.

"That to me indicates that they [governments] are going to have to have more resources that are better capable of responding in bad weather because chances are, most of the accidents are going to occur in bad weather," said Hodson.

He was part of an expert panel cited in a Royal Society of Canada report published last November that looked into the effects of oil spills in aquatic ecosystems.

With files from CBC News