Apr 11, 2015

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Bunker fuel leaked into English Bay

image by Vancouver Aquarium, posted at CBC News article April 9, 2015

I heard about the spill of bunker fuel in English Bay, Canada (English Bay on Wikipedia) early Thursday morning 4/9/15 via CBC.CA Radio 2 News. Some of bunker fuel becomes fumes; heavy globs of bunker fuel sink (see VanCityBuzz article "English Bay Oil Spill: What is Bunker Fuel?"). CBC.CA reported that a person in a sailboat smelled and saw an oil slick around 5 PM Wednesday and the Coast Guard was notified. As we know now, the sailor called Vancouver Police (there is a section that deals with coastal issues) which then contacted the Coast Guard. It was three hours before the contractors (Western Canada Marine Response Corp.) and Coast Guard arrived.

Vancouver Sun news story "Owners of ship that spilled oil in English Bay likely to be charged for cleanup" April 11, 2015 including video

This morning that CBC News radio station has a voice recording of the man in the sailboat. It was shocking to me that a citizen was the one who reported the oil spill. I should think the owner and crew of the cargo ship would be the first people to report to the Coast Guard that the ship was leaking oil! Apparently the owner and ship's crew were oblivious, although I find that hard to believe.

Why was help slow to arrive after it was reported by the citizen? In looking through news reports, I have not been able to find the time that the spill is calculated to have begun. The sailor says he noted the arrival of the Coast Guard three hours after he reported smelling oil, seeing a sheen, and seeing globules of gunk.

Officials downplayed the severity of the incident and glorified their response. One can search social media via hashtag #VanOilSpill and/or #VanFuelSpill. Bunker fuel is seriously toxic and long-lasting. There are non-human animals in critical condition or dead so to them it is already a serious incident. Current and future impacts on the food chain and ecosystem could be severe as well.

English Bay and associated bays and inlets are major tourist attractions and recreation areas. It is going to be a major headache for the sailor to get the oil off his hull and the stink out of his sails and boat. There are dogs whose regular routine is to romp with their owners on the dog beaches and they won't be able to. The hugely popular and important seawall (see Yelp) was closed (see CBC News post April 10, 2015) in connection with cleanup efforts. There will be dents in many people's plans and the economy.

image by North Shore News posted in 4/10/15 article
"Questions linger as oil spill cleanup begins on West Vancouver beaches"
The ostensible lack of preparedness and speed in addressing what some officials called a minor spill leads one to not expect they will respond expeditiously to what they call a major spill.

Some cleanup activities are being conducted by non-profits and citizens. The City of Vancouver even invites citizens to volunteer to work on clean up! This seems to me to conflict with authorities' admonitions (see News 1130 post) to citizens to leave everything to them. Also, the owners of the ship supposedly will be required to pay for cleanup which would mean volunteers would not be requested to help for free.

I wonder why a ship owned by a company in  Athens, Greece (there is some conflicting - or probably earlier info - here saying it is/was owned by a Japanese conglomerate and registered under the Panamanian flag) is registered under a Cyprus flag of all countries. I thought Greece and Cyprus were rather cool to each other. I wonder since a brand new ship on its very first voyage had an accident such as this (presuming nobody did this intentionally), then what's to be expected of old ships?

The Marathassa arrived in Vancouver from Busan, Korea on April 6, 2015 and was loaded with grain near anchorage 12 when the spill was first reported (see Vancouver Sun article "Murky Waters..." posted April 9, 2015). There are many freighters and other ships in Vancouver. But a leak like this can happen up and down the coast, obviously, or in South Korea, Greece, Cyprus, Panama, and Japan. I worry about oil spills, coal and coal dust, and other things harming Bellingham Bay (off Washington state about fifty miles from English Bay). There are boats and ships and also the frequent trains going right along side Bellingham Bay, sometimes within a couple of feet, carrying huge amounts of coal, oil and other commodities (see National Post article re dangerous commodities rail transport in British Columbia). 

It is potentially every world citizen's duty to prevent these events, especially when oil spill response plans written by private companies and governments are either non-existent, secret, or inadequate. 

See Vancouver Sun and News1130 for more news reports and updates:

City of Vancouver officials weren't notified of an oil spill in English Bay until 12 hours after the Coast...
Posted on Facebook Thursday, April 9, 2015 by The Vancouver Sun
News 1130 post from April 10, 2015 Ship from Cyprus confirmed as source of fuel spill at English Bay - Coast Guard wants public to leave clean-up to professionals