Cargo ship acquitted of charges relating to 2015 oil spill

A judge has cleared the MV Marathassa of charges arising from an April 2015 oil spill in English Bay.

Bunker fuel fouled Vancouver's English Bay near the MV Marathassa

A spill response boat secures a boom around the bulk carrier cargo ship MV Marathassa after a bunker fuel spill on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on April 9, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The cargo ship MV Marathassa has been acquitted of the last charges it faced relating to the April 8, 2015, spill that saw 2,700 litres of bunker fuel dumped into Vancouver's English Bay.

On Thursday, Judge Kathryn Denhoff acquitted the ship of charges under the Canada Shipping Act, ruling that while the ship discharged a pollutant, she accepted the ship's defence that it used due diligence in the case.

She found that the discharge came from shipbuilder defects which neither the owner nor crew could have discovered beforehand on the brand new vessel.

The judge also said that the ship had a comprehensive safety system in place, far exceeding the industry standard.

The judge found that the spill was caused by a faulty valve and that an alarm designed to alert the crew was not properly installed.

The ship built in Japan was only three weeks old. The judge said that "the hazards in this case of defective alarms and a defective valve were not foreseeable. The Marathassa, the crew and Transport Canada all expected that the brand new vessel would be free of those defects."

She also ruled that the Crown had failed to prove the ship and its crew didn't implement an oil pollution emergency plan. She also noted that "given the extensive training, verification and ongoing monitoring of the crew, the Marathassa took all reasonable steps to ensure that the crew followed the requirements" of the emergency plan.

She also acquitted the ship on one charge under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

The spill took more than two weeks to clean up, and outraged environmentalists and some residents.

Originally 10 pollution-related charges were laid against the MV Marathassa and its owner, Alassia NewShips Management of Greece. The company did not face trial on any of them because the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled it had not been properly served with a summons.

Other charges against the ship were stayed in August 2018. An acquittal of the ship on a charge under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is currently under appeal.