Fuel spill near Bella Bella was ‘tragic’ says BC NDP leader
Published Saturday, October 22, 2016 6:16PM PDT
Last Updated Saturday, October 22, 2016 6:46PM PDT
Difficult weather conditions have made cleanup efforts extremely challenging after a tugboat crashed into rocks leaking thousands of liters of fuel into the water near Bella-Bella.
Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett said the diesel spill continues to spread in the open water near her community.
"The secondary boom, that's the second boom around the tugboat, broke free, so it's been totally ineffective," she said.
Russell Windsor was one of the first people on scene when the tug ran aground ten days ago.
“It is heartbreaking,” he said. “I was on one side of the boat, not knowing that there were punts pushing on the barge to try to keep it off the rocks from going further into the beach… just as I was going that way, the tug itself sunk.”
Salvage crews have recovered more than 40 per cent of the 200,000 liters of fuel estimated to be in the vessel, but the damage has been done. The local clam fishery has been shut down and BC NDP leader John Horgan is criticizing the spill response.
“It was tragic to see the sheen of diesel on the water,” Horgan said, adding. "You couldn't have picked a worse place to drop this boat into the bottom of the ocean."
Horgan toured the area on Friday and noted the potential issues that could accompany a spill from a larger vessel.
"[It took] twenty-two hours to get to the scene. By that time, much of the damage has been done,” he said. “And this was a small vessel. Imagine the catastrophe if a tanker had hit the rocks and gone down in that location."
The Heiltsuk First Nation has been calling for spill response to be stationed in Bella Bella.
"We had to wait for equipment to come out of Prince Rupert, to come out of Vancouver,” Slett said. “There was nothing on the central coast in terms of oil spill response."
Kirby Offshore Marine, the company that owns the tugboat, has apologized to the Heiltsuk First Nation and thanked the agencies involved in the cleanup.
“We deeply regret the incident that occurred with the Nathan E. Stewart tug. We understand that the incident has caused significant concern for the Heiltsuk Nation and all the people of British Columbia,” said Jim Guidry, executive vice-president of vessel operations in a statement. “We want to thank the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada and the BC Ministry of Environment, and the host of other federal and provincial agencies that have come together to work with us on this incident and clean-up efforts. But most importantly, we want to express our gratitude to the Heiltsuk Nation for their response efforts, local knowledge and generosity. Their contributions have been greatly appreciated.”
Clean up crews are bringing in new booms which will likely arrive on Sunday. The rough waves made it too difficult for divers and boats to work effectively and they were called back at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Nafeesa Karim