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Feds clash with B.C. premier, Vancouver mayor over toxic fuel spill

A spill response boat monitors a boom placed around the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa after a bunker fuel spill on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
April 11, 2015 - 9:38 AM

VANCOUVER - The toxic spill that fouled Vancouver's English Bay has created some poison between federal, provincial and city politicians.

B.C.'s premier and Vancouver's mayor criticized the sluggish and inadequate response of the clean up operation by the coast guard on Friday, April 10.

Industry Minister James Moore reacted defensively, telling reporters that it was unhelpful to have politicians "piling on and spreading misinformation."

"I think it's highly inappropriate for any politician to start pointing fingers and trying to score political points, and taking jabs at other levels of government, without knowing all the facts, while the cleanup is still ongoing," he said.

"I think what the public expects all of us to do is to act responsibly and in the public interest."

The leak began Wednesday evening, but officials only confirmed on Friday that the grain-carrying MV Marathassa was in fact the source of the leak. About 80 per cent of the bunker fuel that spilled has been cleaned up.

Earlier Friday, Premier Christy Clark and Mayor Gregor Robertson held separate news conferences to criticize the Canadian Coast Guard, the federal agency responsible for spill cleanup.

Clark said that had the province been the lead agency, it could have done a better job. She added that she has contacted Ottawa, including the prime minister's office, to demand changes.

"Somebody needs to do a better job of protecting this coast, and the coast guard hasn't done it," she said. "It is totally unacceptable that we don't have the spill response that we require here and the federal government needs to step up."

Robertson questioned why the city was not alerted until 13 hours after the spill and why it took so long to install an oil-absorbing boom around the ship.

"The response to what is a relatively small oil spill by historical standards has been totally inadequate," he said.

"This really goes back to the lack of federal and provincial leadership to make sure that these efforts are co-ordinated, that there's an immediate response to an oil spill in Vancouver's waters, regardless of the scale of it, and that response was lacking."

But Roger Girouard, the Canadian Coast Guard commissioner tasked with overseeing the cleanup, said that what had been achieved in the past few days was "exceptional."

"You don't contain 80 per cent of a spill inside 36 hours and call that inadequate," he said. "I will not accept that definition of my team."

City officials have said that the operator of a passing sailboat noticed an oil sheen in the water at about 5 p.m. Wednesday and called a pollution telephone line, which alerted the coast guard.

Girouard said such reports are not unusual in Vancouver. He said they realized by 8:30 p.m. that this was a significant event, and the port and police were contacted.

He said the oil-absorbing boom was installed by midnight — a three-hour turnaround he called "solid." Girouard earlier said the boom was installed by 2 a.m., but revised the timeline Friday after receiving new information.

Girouard said the province, through Emergency Management B.C., was alerted Wednesday evening and it is their responsibility to contact city officials. However, he said the situation would be reviewed to ensure the city isn't left in the dark again.

Transport Canada said the ship appeared to suffer a malfunction when it leaked about 2,700 litres of bunker fuel. The ship was built in Japan and had just come out of the shipyard in February.

A statement from the Marathassa's owner, Alassia NewShips Management Inc., said all possible causes will be investigated, especially because that this was the vessel's first voyage.

The Greece-based company thanked local authorities and said it is committed to a full and professional clean-up.

"Managers of the MV Marathassa emphatically state that the vessel's insurance is fully compliant with Canadian law and duly in place. We have cooperated fully and will meet all our legal obligations arising out of this unfortunate incident."

"We regret the incident and again, thank all those who are working to rectify the situation."

The seawall near Siwash Rock in Stanley Park was closed Friday afternoon as the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, directed by the coast guard, began formal recovery and cleanup.

The Vancouver Park Board said the hardest-hit areas include the North Shore beaches, Sandy Cove, Ambleside and beaches in Stanley Park. Several oiled birds were taken to a refuge for treatment.

City staff are patrolling several areas and signs have been placed in English Bay warning people to stay away.

Girouard said owners of the Marathassa will be on the hook for the costs related to the spill, and a team will soon be working on the legal claims process.

— With files from Justin Smallbridge and Cara McKenna

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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