A Houston-based company is scheduled to be sentenced after pleading guilty to a diesel spill from a tug boat that ran aground and sank in the fishing grounds of a First Nation on British Columbia’s central coast. The tug boat Nathan E. Stewart is seen in the waters of the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella, B.C., in an October 23, 2016, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk First Nation, April Bencze

U.S. firm fined $2.9M for fuel spill that soiled B.C. First Nation territory

The Nathan E. Stewart spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October 2016

The company responsible for a fuel spill that contaminated the fishing territory of a First Nation on British Columbia’s central coast has been fined $2.9 million but the chief of the Heiltsuk says the sentence is a long way from justice.

Texas-based Kirby Corp. pleaded guilty in May to three separate counts after the tug Nathan E. Stewart ran aground and sank, spilling 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October 2016.

The guilty pleas were under the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Pilotage Act for the spill that damaged both fish and birds, and for failing to have a pilot aboard the vessel.

The Transportation Safety Board ruled last May that a crew member missed a planned course change because he fell asleep while alone on watch.

Chief Marilyn Slett said Tuesday the Heiltsuk Nation wanted the company to be banned from its territorial waters until there is proper restitution in accordance with the nation’s traditional laws to respect the land and people who depend on the sea for sustenance and jobs.

Slett, along with elders and youth as well as representatives for Kirby, participated in a sentencing circle during provincial court proceedings held in a gymnasium in Bella Bella before Judge Brent Hoy announced the sentence.

“The effects of the spill have rippled throughout our community,” Slett said in her victim-impact statement. ”Our community was traumatized by the actions of visitors in our territory, and we have collectively grieved and mourned our losses.”

“It was emotional,” she said afterwards. “We’re still feeling the effects of this spill and we’re continuing to try and resume life to see what we can do moving forward to ensure that this doesn’t happen to us again.”

The community still does not have adequate resources to respond to any future incidents, Slett said.

Families can’t fish in Gale Creek and the nation is trying to gain justice through a civil lawsuit against Kirby, Slett said, adding the company has chosen not to do an environmental impact assessment.

“We have a principle that if we take care of the land the land will take care of us,” she said.

Paul Welsh, spokesman for Kirby, declined to comment but issued a statement from the company.

“We sincerely regret this incident and we have amended our operating procedures, training, auditing, promotion protocols and equipment to help reduce the potential for future accidents,” it said.

William Housty, 37, said in his victim-impact statement that he was among the first responders after the spill and joined Slett in serving as an incident commander on behalf of their nation.

“My 27 days in this role were one of the most stressful, hurtful and challenging of my life,” he said, adding his team worked hard to fit into a response system the members knew nothing about and fought to be included with Kirby in assessing a barge that had also sunk.

READ MORE: ‘I fell asleep’ admits second mate in Nathan E. Stewart fuel spill

READ MORE: First Nation sues over tug that spilled 110,000 litres of diesel off B.C. coast

READ MORE: Mate asleep while on watch in B.C. tug incident, TSB report says

“It was from that point on that it was stated that for any and every crew that went anywhere in our territory there had to be a Heiltsuk person on that crew. This caused extreme annoyance to everyone but we forced it to happen,” said Housty, who is chair of the board of directors for the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department.

About 70 per cent of the community is unemployed and about 40 people who relied on the clam fishery through the fall and winter can no longer provide for their families, he said.

The First Nation is seeking funding to implement innovative projects designed to create healthy fish populations elsewhere on its territory, Housty said.

Amid those efforts, the effects of emotional trauma linger among many of the first responders following the spill, he added.

“This incident has caused so much damage to all of us and there is no amount of money in the world that can replace what was lost.”

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

Just Posted

Capital Regional District prepares to reopen regional campgrounds

Camping will look different at Island View, Sooke Potholes, Jordan River sites

Victoria traffic stop yields drugs, case full of weapons

Police seize firearms, swords and flares

Suspect taken into custody after allegedly attempting to steal a dinghy in Sidney

The incident happened Wednesday morning near Beacon Wharf

Long wait to reopen is over for Sidney gym

Owner of Sidney’s Anytime Fitness expects safety measures to be in place for some time

Sooke council approves new funding for chamber of commerce

A $16,000 service agreement to be created

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

POLL: Do you agree with the provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage?

B.C.’s lowest-paid workers will be getting a few more dollars to try… Continue reading

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

As SD84 schools look to reopen, Kyuquot and Zeballos opt out

Schools in Tahsis and Gold River will open on June 1, with 30 per cent students expected to come in

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Most Read