Politicians trade blame over Vancouver fuel spill response
Less than 48 hours after a tanker fuel spill fouled Vancouver’s picturesque English Bay, accusations flew between the three levels of government involved in the response.
At a news conference Friday morning, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson slammed the provincial and federal governments for what he called a “lack of leadership” that led to a “totally inadequate” emergency response.
Industry Minister James Moore later denounced the “finger-pointing,” saying all levels of government must work together when such incidents occur.
“I think the public expects our political leaders to treat serious circumstances like this with the serious tone and solemnity that it deserves,” Moore told reporters Friday.
“And I know that there’s been a lot of finger-pointing that’s happened in the last few hours and the last day or so. But we’re less than 48 hours removed from when the incident first began. The clean-up is still ongoing, the facts are still coming in, and I think it’s highly inappropriate for any politician to start pointing fingers and try to score political points and taking jabs at other levels of government without knowing all the facts.”
B.C. Premier Christy Clark, meanwhile, slammed the Coast Guard’s response to the spill and suggested that the province may take charge of similar situations in the future.
An estimated 3,000 litres of bunker fuel leaked from the Marathassa grain carrier on Wednesday, producing a large oil slick in the water and spreading a tar-like substance on the sand and rocks along the English Bay shoreline.
By Friday morning, about 80 per cent of the spill was contained, the Coast Guard said.
Roger Girouard, assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, said Friday he was "proud" of the team working on the cleanup.
"The number 80 (per cent), in terms of oil recovery, is tremendously rare. It represents an amazing success in oil pollution cleanup and I'm actually quite proud and impressed at the team's response and their ability to deal with the lion's share of the oil before it hit the beaches," Girouard said.
But Robertson questioned why it took six hours to deploy the containment booms and 13 hours to notify the City of Vancouver after the Coast Guard first learned of the spill.
“The response to what is a relatively small oil spill by historical standards has been totally inadequate to date,” Robertson told a news conference.
While he thanked first responders and cleanup crews for their hard work, Robertson said the slow response to the spill goes back “to the lack of leadership from the federal and provincial government to make sure that these efforts are co-ordinated, that there is an immediate response.
“That response was lacking,” he said.
Robertson said city officials still don’t know how dangerous the fuel is, how much of the substance has settled at the bottom of the English Bay and how that will affect the wildlife and residents in the region.
“My real questions go to the resources available,” Robertson said.
He said the federal government has made cuts to the nearby Kits Coast Guard base and to the local oil spill response centre.
“Those are unacceptable,” he said. “Here we have an example of a spill taking place and the response was inadequate. Too slow, not enough information and citizens in Vancouver are very frustrated.”
B.C. Premier Christy Clark said she doesn’t believe the delayed response was due to a shortage of resources, but rather a “shortage of good judgment and nimbleness.”
She told reporters Friday that she’s “very, very” disappointed that the city was not immediately notified of the spill and that it took the Coast Guard “six long hours to put in place booms.”
Clark suggested the incident may eventually lead the province to start taking charge of fuel spills, instead of the Coast Guard.
Asked about Robertson’s criticism of provincial and federal officials, Clark said, “What I hear from him is real frustration.”
She said there is a “unified command” response to spills, led by the Coast Guard, and the mayor “probably doesn’t have a thorough understanding” of it.
Yvette Myers, of Transport Canada, told The Canadian Press that there seems to have been a malfunction with the MV Marathassa, which was brand new and on its maiden voyage. The ship was constructed in Japan and it had arrived in Vancouver on Wednesday to collect grain.
A shoreline cleanup team was deployed Friday morning to Sandy Cove and Stanley Park and will “gradually move southward” from there, Fisheries and Oceans Canada tweeted.
Moore said the cost of the cleanup by all levels of government won’t be “shouldered by Canadian taxpayers.”
“’Polluter pays’ is the law of the land in Canada, and the Marathassa spill is going to be the responsibility of those who committed this spill,” he said.
Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver is urging people to stay away from the water and the shoreline.
Robertson said the response from residents who want to help with the cleanup has been overwhelming.
Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs said many residents are angry about the response and the still-unclear damage to the shoreline and wildlife.
“Those beaches are…a national treasure, in my judgement, so we really have to keep them clean,” Meggs told CTV News Channel Friday.
He said the spill “raises the question of what will happen if we see a dramatic increase in tanker traffic.”