Review flags denial, confusion in slow response to Marathassa oil spill

Nearly two-hour delay in deploying cleanup crews to Vancouver's English Bay caused by series of agency failures

It was several hours before containment booms were eventually put in place around the MV Marathassa after a fuel oil spill April 8.

It was several hours before containment booms were eventually put in place around the MV Marathassa after a fuel oil spill April 8.

An independent review of the spill of bunker fuel oil into Vancouver’s English Bay has blamed cleanup delays on the MV Marathassa’s initial denial it was the source, as well as miscommunication between responding agencies.

Report author John Butler found confusion about roles and responsibilities, shifting assessments of the severity, and technical difficulties resulted in a one hour and 49 minute delay in the response to the 2,700-litre spill from the grain freighter on April 8.

The spill soiled beaches in Vancouver and West Vancouver and drew intense criticism from the City of Vancouver, which was not notified until the next morning, 13 hours later.

The incident was treated as a failed test of the capability of federal agencies to respond to a much bigger oil spill from an actual oil tanker.

It increased calls for the province to reject any new oil pipeline to the coast and sparked renewed criticism of the federal decision to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard base.

Calls about a slick on the water began coming in from the public to the Canadian Coast Guard and Port Metro Vancouver just before 5 p.m., according to the Coast Guard-commisioned review.

Port officials had a boat on the water investigating by 5:12 and by 5:18 the port had contacted the Marathassa, whose captain soon denied being the source of the pollutant.

By 5:50, the port determined the spill was recoverable and unlikely to break up before it hit the beach, and at 6:00 it told the cleanup agency – the Western Canada Marine Response Corp. – that the Coast Guard would likely order them into action.

But neither the Coast Guard nor the port immediately activated WCMRC, which decided on its own to mobilize its crews as an exercise at 6:35.

And WCMRC’s deployment proved to be short-lived.

Its crews demobilized after hearing from Port Metro Vancouver that its vessel was standing down, on the basis there was no recoverable oil.

“This was in error,” the report found, noting the port vessel wasn’t standing down but returning to dock to get sampling kits and expressing concern about fading daylight.

WCMRC was then ordered back into action around 8 p.m. as the size of the spill became clearer.

The first WCMRC vessel arrived at 9:25 p.m. and began recovering oil. Cleanup crews began booming around the Marathassa at 4:36 a.m. and completed it within an hour.

The report found the Coast Guard wrongly believed Port Metro Vancouver was the lead agency responsible for the spill because it happened in the harbour.

That mistaken Coast Guard decision was in part because its duty officer was physically in Prince Rupert and not aware of appropriate protocols for a mystery spill in Vancouver harbour.

The report said there was “minimal impact” on the public from a health and safety perspective, but about 20 birds were oiled and ongoing effects are being monitored.

Recommendations include ensuring the Coast Guard has adequate staff to respond to a major pollution incident anywhere in its region at any time, and ensuring accurate information is released as soon as possible on the size and type of spill, along with public health implications.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak called the review and its findings a good first step toward ensuring better marine spill protection.

“We are on the right path,” Polak said. “But we also recognize there is still much more work to do towards achieving the sort of marine spill response capabilities we can be truly proud of.”

Just Posted

Surrey Fire Service battled a dock fire along the Fraser River late Friday night (June 18). It was on Musqueam Drive, near Industrial Road, around 10:45 p.m. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Fire engulfs pier on Surrey side of the Fraser River

Dock has reportedly been unused for a long time

A mixed-use development with 69 market rental units and 10 commercial units is proposed for the 2300-block of King George Boulevard. (Thinkspace rendering)
Pair of South Surrey apartment proposals move forward

Council gives third reading to rezoning applications for market-rental and residential projects

Launched in January, Uplift Canada was founded by Tsawwassen resident Maggie Larocque. (submitted photo)
Surrey shelters get clothing collected June 26 by Uplift Canada

Book a pickup on website of the new non-profit, founded by Delta resident

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

Most Read