VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s premier and Vancouver’s mayor are harshly critical of the federal government for its sluggish response to a toxic fuel spill in the city’s scenic English Bay.
Premier Christy Clark said on Friday she was “very, very disappointed” the coast guard did not alert city officials until more than 12 hours after the spill.
Even more disappointing, she said, was the fact that it took too long to install an oil-absorbing boom around the cargo ship that leaked about 2,700 litres of bunker fuel.
“When you look at the core of the issue here, it is that it took the coast guard six long hours to put in place booms, and the problem would have certainly been minimized,” she said at a news conference.
The leak began Wednesday, but officials only confirmed on Friday that the grain-carrying ship was in fact the source of the leak and that the ship was on its maiden voyage. The coast guard said 80 per cent of the bunker fuel that spilled has been cleaned up.
Clark said that had the province been the lead agency, it could have done a better job.
“And if that means that in the future, the coast guard is relieved of its lead in this and starts taking direction from the province, then perhaps that’s a better way to do it.”
She added 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.”
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said he has significant questions about why it took so long to deploy the booms and contact the city.
“The response to what is a relatively small oil spill by historical standards has been totally inadequate,” he said at a news conference separate from the Clark event.
“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.”
Transport Canada said Friday the ship, the MV Marathassa, appeared to suffer a malfunction.
“We certainly believe that it was unintentional,” said Yvette Myers, regional director of marine safety and security. “Transport Canada really needs to determine the root cause.”
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 vessel and its crew are appreciative of the efforts of the Vancouver marine response community and the assistance of the local authorities in this incident.”
Canadian Coast Guard commissioner Roger Girouard defended the spill response. He said initial reports about the fuel leak were murky and there had to be an assessment.
“Was there a period of time when we weren’t quite sure what we were dealing with? Absolutely. That’s not atypical in this type of a scenario,” he said.
The fuel spread over water and land in a purple-blue sheen and has prompted safety warnings from the city telling people to avoid downtown beaches and not to touch the fuel.
The Vancouver Park Board said the hardest-hit areas include the North Shore beaches, Sandy Cove, Ambleside and beaches in Stanley Park.
City staff are patrolling several areas and signs have been placed in English Bay warning people to stay away. Several environmental protesters gathered at the beach on Friday.
Park Board Chairman John Coupar said in a news release that staff are “very concerned about the fallout of this oil spill on our pristine beaches.”
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.