Vancouver Island MP frustrated over lack of action from Ottawa on ocean debris cleanup

In November 2016, a shipping container spilled its contents off the west coast of Vancouver Island. One year later, locals are still cleaning up debris and looking for the federal government to legislate an action plan that would protect marine ecosystems if it happens again.

'I have risen 16 times in the House of Commons on this issue,' says Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns

Shipping container debris washed up on the shoreline between Tofino and Ucluelet in November 2016 after the cargo ship, Hanjin Seattle, spilled 35 containers off the west coast of Vancouver Island. (Paul Freimuth/Ukeedaze)

A year ago, a cargo ship spilled a load of shipping containers filled with plastic debris off the west coast of Vancouver Island, and, now, a local MP is calling on the federal government to create a national strategy to support beach cleanup.

The Korean cargo ship — the Hanjin Seattle — lost 35 shipping containers in the ocean off the coast of Tofino in November 2016. Volunteers were primarily responsible for cleaning up millions of pieces of styrofoam and plastic that washed up on local beaches.

Gord Johns, the NDP MP for Courtenay-Alberni, brought a motion to the House of Commons on Thursday, that called on the government to create a comprehensive action plan to deal with future marine debris spills.

No plan in place

"Basically, there is no mechanism, no government program to deal with a marine debris spill of that magnitude," Johns told All Points West host, Jason D'Souza.

In September 2016, Hanjin filed for bankruptcy. Staff at Pacific Rim National Park petitioned the bankruptcy court and was given $72,000 to support clean-up efforts. According to Johns, that money was received by Ottawa within a month of the incident, and it took the government until May 2017 to get the money to the West Coast.

"The fact that the government got the money and then sat on it for six months while this debris spread was just disturbing," said Johns.

'Incredibly disappointing'

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne, supports Johns' motion and said it took a long time for her community to clean up the mess.

"It's taken pretty much a year to get the debris off the beach which is astonishing and incredibly disappointing," said Osborne.

"It is cheaper and far more effective to remove this kind of debris quickly then it is to wait to get it off the beaches a year later."

Osborne lauded the people in her community who came forward with manpower and equipment and did the best they could to remove pieces of metal and sacks of plastic and Styrofoam they collected both at sea and on shore.

"The work itself was an incredible feat of co-ordination of volunteers and people with the right kind of marine expertise with boats and helicopters to get out there and collect it all," said Osborne.

16 times a charm?

Johns has risen in the House of Commons 16 times on this issue. His motion calls on the government to recognize that plastic pollution poses a serious threat to the health and well-being of wildlife, ecosystems and communities.

The motion also includes recommendations to reduce the industrial use of microplastics, debris discharged from stormwater outfalls and consumer and industrial use of single-use plastics.


With files from All Points West