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.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

White Rock council is narrowing the scope of the current White Rock Official Community Plan review to focus on building heights in the city, in keeping with the mandate it received in the 2018 municipal election. (File photo)
White Rock council to renew focus on limiting building heights

OCP review modified to reflect 2018 election mandate

Surrey RCMP is asking for the public’s help to find Jasvir Singh, who was last seen crossing the border into Canada on Nov. 24, 2020. (Photo: Surrey RCMP handout)
Surrey RCMP looking for missing man last seen crossing border into Canada

Police say Jasvir Singh hasn’t been seen since shortly after midnight on Nov. 24

Bonnie and Ken Fletcher’s annual Christmas lights display, complete with animated, inflated and hand-painted treasures, and more. (File photo)
South Surrey Rudolph & Friends display to light up this weekend

Scaled-back effort, ‘aiming to bring happiness’ despite pandemic

The COVID-19 test centre at Peace Arch Hospital is located on the building’s south side. (Tracy Holmes photo)
South Surrey woman calls for consistency in COVID-19 post-test messaging

‘Could we just get one thing straight?’ asks Deb Antifaev

Tom Jackson and bassist Kirby Barber in a trailer for "The Huron Carole," from video posted to youtube.com.
Tom Jackson’s ‘Huron Carole’ concert in White Rock goes virtual to feed hungry Canadians

Surrey broadcast date of Blue Frog-recorded show is Friday, Dec. 11, to benefit Surrey Food Bank

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

British Columbia Premier John Horgan speaks during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Horgan is set to introduce his NDP government’s new cabinet Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP cabinet built to tackle pandemic, economic recovery, says former premier

Seven former NDP cabinet ministers didn’t seek re-election, creating vacancies in several high-profile portfolios

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

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

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Most Read