British Columbia

Vancouver oil spill response 'embarrassing,' says international expert

The response to the English Bay oil spill was "very disappointing" says ecosystem expert Anita Burke, who is calling for Kitsilano Coast Guard station to be re-opened.

Anita Burke calling for re-opening of Kitsilano Coast Guard station in wake of English Bay spill

A spill response boat secures a boom 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/The Canadian Press)

The response to the bunker fuel spill in Vancouver's English Bay was "very disappointing" says Anita Burke, an international expert in responding to and restoring ecosystems affected by industrial and natural disasters.

"We clearly have large gaps in our ability to respond and take care of our coast … it's embarrassing, frankly," said Burke, who worked with Shell and its subsidiaries on corporate responsibility and sustainable development for 17 years.

On April 8, an estimated 2,700 litres of oil leaked from the MV Marathassa into English Bay. The Coast Guard has been criticized for the time it took to respond to the spill

Western Canada Marine Response Corporation — the company tasked with cleanup arrived on site more than four hours after the Coast Guard had been notified, and booms weren't fully secured around the cargo ship until more than 12 hours after the call.

"The industrial standard — what we've been held to for many years — is anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour," Burke told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

"The clear reporting channels were non-existent and it compromised the response. The emergency response by the vessel itself was non-existent."

The Canadian Coast Guard disputed Burke's claim. 

"Our partners responded within international standards. We sent vessels within 25 minutes to inspect the report, and skimmers were on the water within four hours to contain the substance," it said in an emailed statement.

By 5:53 a.m. the next morning, 1,100 metres of boom were securely placed around the hull, and 80 per cent of the pollution was contained and recovered."

'We haven't defined what cleanup is'

The federal government has said 80 per cent of the fuel spill was cleaned up and contained within 36 hours, but Burke would like to see the information behind those numbers.

Anita Burke worked with Shell and its subsidiaries for nearly two decades. (Anita Burke/Facebook)

"I've responded to some of the largest oil spills in the world and within industry we are real happy if we get anywhere from 15 to 20 per cent," said Burke.

"I don't even know that we have full cleanup. We haven't defined what cleanup is. We don't have the total volumes. There's still oil showing up on the beaches," she said.

Burke said officials need to bolster their ability to respond to spills before expanding tanker traffic through English Bay. She is also adding her voice to calls to re-open the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.

"While this spill is relatively small, no spill is not worth paying attention to. It's a good wake-up call."

Some warnings still up

Burke will be speaking about the spill and the subsequent response as part of a panel discussion at Simon Fraser University on Wednesday night.

Advisories related to the spill have been lifted at most beaches in Vancouver in West Vancouver, but warnings are still up at John Lawson Park in West Vancouver.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Coast Guard declined further comment on the clean-up.

To hear the full interview with Anita Burke, listen to the audio labelled: Anita Burke "very disappointed" in Vancouver oil spill response.