Fingerpointing aplenty after Vancouver fuel spill

With Vancouver Harbour and freighters as a backdrop, Premier Christy Clark said the MV Marathassa bunker fuel spill “will be the wake-up call” for the Canadian Coast Guard to improve preparation and response.

“We’ve got cruise ships sitting out there right now that carry oil, we’ve got B.C. Ferries that go every day that carry oil, we’ve got grain ships, we’ve got ships moving back and forth to Asia,” she said at an April 10 news conference. “This is the vital life line of the national economy right here.”

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Clark was responding the day after Vancouverites woke-up to find English Bay polluted by nearly 3,000 litres of toxic fuel from the Japanese-built grain carrier on its maiden voyage.

Port Metro Vancouver said its operations centre was contacted by the coast guard after 5 p.m. on April 8 about a report of an oily sheen on the water in English Bay. The port’s harbour patrol confirmed the incident and the coast guard dispatched Western Canada Marine Response Corporation.

Clark said it was unacceptable for City of Vancouver to not be notified for more than 12 hours, but said Mayor Gregor Robertson’s criticism of the province was wrong; it was the responsibility of the coast guard as the lead agency, as per the National Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime.

“Those resources need to be enhanced, they need to decide that they want to take the lead or they need to relinquish that lead to the province,” Clark said.

Marathassa was anchored within 2 nautical miles of the decommissioned Kitsilano Coast Guard base. Vancouver Quadra Liberal MP Joyce Murray said leader Justin Trudeau has committed to reopening the 2013-closed base, should the Liberals win the October federal election.

“This is one of the issues, the local issues that I had more phone calls and emails and concern about than virtually anything else in the time I have been a Member of Parliament,” Murray told the Courier. “The citizens of Metro Vancouver get it why there needs to be good response capabilities right here in the harbour and for some reason the Conservative Members of Parliament and Conservative government just completely ignored those concerns and now we see the cost.”

The fuel also washed up on the shores of West Vancouver, in the federal riding represented by Conservative backbencher John Weston. A request to interview Weston was not fulfilled.

Cyprus-flagged Marathassa was launched from shipbuilder JMU Shipyards in Japan on Jan. 6, according to the Twitter account of Athens-based manager Alassia NewShips. Photographs show Marathassa, which is crewed by Greek and Filipino nationals, at Cascadia Terminals in East Vancouver on April 7.

“While the focus at the moment is on the response, the owners have cooperated fully and will meet their legal obligation arising out of this unfortunate incident,” said Jim Lawrence, president of Marathassa crisis communications contractor MTI Network in a prepared statement.

“When the clean-up is completed, to the satisfaction of local authorities, all possible causes of the incident will be investigated, particularly given that this was the vessel's first voyage.”

Coincidentally, the Vancouver Convention Centre is scheduled to host the Clean Pacific conference June 16-18, about prevention, planning and preparedness and response and recovery for marine, rail and pipeline oil spills. The event is co-hosted by the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force.


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