Feds on the offensive over English Bay fuel spill

B.C.‘s top Tory cabinet minister blasted Premier Christy Clark and Mayor Gregor Robertson over their response to the MV Marathassa bunker fuel spill in English Bay.

Speaking at an April 10 afternoon news conference, federal Industry Minister James Moore said “to have politicians piling on and spreading misinformation is unhelpful.”

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Robertson and Clark held separate news conferences earlier in the day after being unavailable April 9, when Vancouverites woke-up to the environmental emergency. Robertson blamed provincial and federal officials for a lack of information and slow response. Clark said it wasn’t the province’s problem, but also criticized the feds.

“For people to just hold press conferences with only bits and pieces of information is very unhelpful,” Moore said.

Asst. Comm. Roger Girouard, the regional director of the Canadian Coast Guard, said initial reports of the spill were around 6 p.m. on April 8.

“Reports of pollution in Vancouver Harbour, maybe not every single day, but they’re not an uncommon occurrence,” Girouard said. “The initial assessment frankly on the water was it may not be that bad, it may not be major. So we had an overflight and imagery at about (8 p.m.) that we concluded that it is that bad. That’s really when the alarm bell rung.”

Port Metro Vancouver and Emergency Management B.C. were notified, he said. So was the Vancouver Police, which has a marine unit. Girouard said cleanup crews arrived on scene around 11:30 p.m. and a boom was set around the vessel.

He also said that the 2013-closed Kitsilano Coast Guard base would have been of little use. It was a search and rescue station not equipped for environmental incident response.

“Would they have been an extra set of eyes, fair enough, unquestionably,” he said. “But during that early period of time there were lots of eyes on scene. I am satisfied that Kitsilano would not have made an iota of difference to the response or the containment of oil that we’ve managed to pull off.”

As for the response, Girouard stood by the work of coast guard and Western Canada Marine Response Corp. personnel.

“You don’t contain 80 per cent of a spill inside 36 hours and call that inadequate. I will not accept that definition of my team in the ops centre or on the water. Look at the normal standards throughout the world and what we achieved over the last couple of days, it was exceptional.”

Meanwhile, questions persist about whether city hall had lobbied federal and provincial officials to do more to prevent or respond to such an incident. The majority Vision Vancouver city council has crusaded against the potential increase in oil tanker traffic should the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Burnaby be approved.

An Oct. 1, 2014 Freedom of Information request sought correspondence dating back to Jan. 1, 2013 between the Office of the Mayor and senior elected and appointed federal and provincial officials regarding concerns about pollution — including exhaust, fuel and sewage — from cruise ships, freighters, other industrial vessels and pleasure craft in waterways around Vancouver.

On Dec. 18, Access to Information Director Barbara Van Fraassen claimed there were no records responsive to the request.

bob@bobmackin.ca

@bobmackin

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