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

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

Central Saanich will investigate ways in which the municipality along with funding partners Sidney and North Saanich can financially support the Panorama Recreation Centre. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich to spell out options for financially supporting Panorama Recreation Centre

Municipality looks for best use of COVID-19 restart grant worth some $3.5 million

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

(Black Press Media file photo)
Blue-green algae bloom confirmed in Elk Lake, water-based activities not recommended

Blue-green algae can be lethal to dogs, cause health issues for humans

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Most Read