Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the English Bay oil spill, in which 2,700 litres of toxic bunker fuel leaked from the Cypress-registered MV Marathassa and onto some of the city’s most prominent beaches.
The incident sparked outrage at the time, and raised major questions about the region’s spill response capacity.
But one-year out, we still don’t know the cost of the cleanup effort.
LISTEN: CKNW News Director Terry Schintz and reporter Shane Woodford break down the spill
IN PICTURES: The English Bay oil spill
The spill was first reported by boater Rob O’Dea around five pm on April 8th, but it was hours before anyone appeared on scene, and days before the Marathassa was confirmed as its source.
And it was a full 12 hours before the City of Vancouver was notified, eliciting a furious response from Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.
At the time, Coast Guard commissioner Jody Thomas defended the agency’s response.
“Our response was exceptional. The Coast Guard took immediate leadership as soon as the initial report was received and focused all efforts on removing any pollutant from the water.”
But O’Dea had a different reading of the incident.
“From the time we made our initial phone call at 5:05, between 7:30 and 8:00 there had been no Coast Guard on the scene… You’ve gotta kick and scream and yell and do whatever is necessary until somebody shows up. We had naively thought they would show up and provided a credible report and described a half-kilometre long by 250 metre-wide slick.”
The response was complicated by the fact that the owners of the grain ship denied any responsibility for the accident.
It wasn’t until July, when a Coast Guard report later confirmed that “confusion” and “miscommunication” between the CCG, Port Metro Vancouver, and Western Canada Marine Response Corp, did in fact lead to a two hour delay in responding to the accident.
Since then, the Coast Guard says progress has been made, with the majority of the report’s recommendations either completed, initiated, or under way.
Last summer, Vancouver’s mayor estimated the city’s bill alone would be in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but warned the money may never be recovered.
After promising to pay, the MV Marathassa was permitted to leave Canadian waters about two weeks after the accident; its operators have yet to pay anything to local authorities.
Under Canada’s “polluter pay” principle, the MV Marathassa’s operators are legally required to pick up the tab, and Transport Canada says they remain on the hook, but confidentiality of negotiations means we may never know how much the cleanup cost.
A week after the spill, the DFO issued a fishing ban in the area, but the immediate concern was for waterfowl.
Coleen Doucette with the Wildlife Rescue Association says the spill also brought to light the need for a plan to be put in place for rescue crews to care for animals affected in these incidents.
She says 60 animals were impacted, and only three were saved.
Doucette adds it’s surprising there’s no legislation in place to ensure the safety of animals following a spill.
“Compared to other countries globally that do have legislation in place and do have funding mechanisms in place, it is really surprising that Canada is lagging far behind at this time.”
She estimates the rescue efforts cost her organization a little over $20,000.
She says however it’ll cost more if a plan isn’t in place for wildlife regulations in response to oil spills.
“It costs more if we don’t have a plan in place beforehand then if we already have a plan in place and we already know what facility’s going to be used. The sooner we get those animals, the healthier they are and the quicker we can turn them around and the less it costs.”
Base to re-open
Former base commander Fred Moxey said a pollution response boat had once been stationed in False Creek, would have been capable of responding to such a spill within six minutes.
With the Liberal election win last October, the base is to reopen. But as for when, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson isn’t sure but hopes it’s soon.
“I certainly hope it’s up and running by summer. I know they’re working hard on it right now and they have crews 24/7 in Vancouver based over in Coal Harbour. We’re certainly thankful to see service restored and we want to see service up as soon as possible.”
The federal Liberals announced almost $24-million would be poured into the re-opening of the base in their budget.
With files from Matt Lee
Read the full Coast Guard report