Oil Spills in Vancouver, B.C., Harbor


From Seattle Times

Spill response boats work to contain fuel leaking from the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa, anchored on Burrard Inlet, Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia. The City of Vancouver warned that the fuel is toxic and should not be touched. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)

Spill response boats work to contain fuel leaking from the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa, anchored on Burrard Inlet, Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia.


A spill of bunker oil Wednesday evening in Vancouver, B.C., wasn’t reported to Vancouver officials until 12 hours after the Coast Guard was first alerted to the problem, raising concerns about the rate of response in an emergency.

While someone from a sailboat first reported the estimated kilometer-long oil slick at about 5 p.m. to Port Metro Vancouver, the Canadian Coast Guard didn’t start containing the area until 8 p.m., when crews in five boats from the West Coast Marine Response Corp. set up a boom around the ship Marathassa, a bulk grain carrier from Korea, and then worked throughout the night to recover some of the heavier oil around the ship and pinpoint its source.

The city, however, was not informed of the slick until 6 a.m. the next day, at which time it activated its emergency operations center, calling on marine units from the Vancouver Police and Fire and Rescue officers, as well as city staff and park rangers to monitor the shoreline, and biologists and wildlife experts to assess any risks to the shoreline and wildlife.

“We’re here to help and support. We need to be an integrated part of any response,” city manager Penny Ballem said.

At a news conference held at English Bay Thursday morning, City Councilman Geoff Meggs also voiced concerns about the delay in alerting the city.

Meggs said while the spill may be considered a minor event by federal authorities, it is a huge deal to the people of Vancouver.

“I think a lot of councillors want to to know the details of the event, how notifications occurred, who decided to make the various decisions about response time. Clearly the spill cleanup occurred promptly, but was it enough? … I want to be cautious today because we value the good working relationship we have with the port, but at the same time we always want to strengthen it.”

A total of 1,400 liters of oil has already been recovered by crews cleaning up the toxic fuel spill believed to have leaked from the freighter Wednesday afternoon. The Coast Guard estimates as much 2,800 liters (about 740 gallons) escaped.

Julia Ren, spokeswoman for Port Metro Vancouver, said if the ship is found to have caused the spill, it would likely be responsible for all clean-up costs under Canada’s polluter pays principle, which means a shipper is liable for costs if it causes marine pollution.

Rob O’Dea, a sailor who reported the spill, said he was surprised the response hadn’t been quicker. O’Dea was sailing in English Bay at about 5 p.m. when he noticed a half-kilometer section of flat water amid the windswept waves. As he sailed closer, he realized the slick wasn’t just on the surface but deep beneath the water.

“There were thousands of block globules from the size of a pea up to a fist,” O’Dea said. “It wasn’t just an oily sheen on the water.”

He called the Coast Guard, but noted there was not an emergency response on scene until at least an hour later when a harbor patrol boat appeared and went back and forth through the slick. By 8 p.m., he said, the slick still hadn’t been contained. Ironically, O’Dea added, the slick had occurred in sight of the now-closed Coast Guard Station.

“If we don’t have emergency response capabilities out there in the harbor, it doesn’t speak well to the rest of the coast,” he said. “I would have expected there would have been a boat there within minutes. There should have been a boom in there within an hour or two.”

Vancouver West End New Democrat MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert said he was concerned that people and their dogs were swimming at English Bay without being informed that a toxic fuel spill had happened.

“Obviously this is a huge concern,” said Chandra Herbert. “I think the federal government share some responsibility here. The fact that they didn’t even tell the city about it until 12 hours after is a huge failure.”

Coast Guard spokesman Dan Bate said it wasn’t until the organization took an aerial view of the site that it realized the size of the spill was much larger than first thought. Crews from five West Coast Marine Response Corporation boats used skimmers Thursday to try to recover some of the oil surrounding the ship, though Port Metro Vancouver stressed that it has not been confirmed that the oil is from that ship.

Bate wouldn’t confirm the identify of the oily substance but Vancouver city officials posted a boater and watercraft alert on Twitter early Thursday, saying that the spill is believed to be bunker fuel and that it is toxic. They are warning people not to touch the fuel.

Ballem said the oil still being tested to confirm it is bunker fuel.

Bunker fuel is a type of liquid fuel used on ships which is fractionally distilled from crude oil. It is extremely crude and highly polluting.

Aerial photos show a sheen on the water out in the bay stretching to the shore, but at Kits and Sunset beaches Thursday morning, there was little evidence of an oil spill. Several residents out walking their dogs said they hadn’t seen any oil on the beach.

However, several people posted photographs on social media websites showing a sticky oil residue on their hands, and one user posted a video showing what appears to be an oily substance on the water’s edge at the north end of English Bay.

There were no signs up warning about the spill at the beaches, though city staff were out speaking to people about the incident. All affected beaches remained open Thursday.

Bate said there are no confirmed reports that the oil has reached the shores of the local beaches.

Yet the Vancouver park board says oil has been seen on Sunset Beach as well as English Bay, while four oil-covered ducks were seen preening themselves between Second and Third Beach on the shore in Stanley Park.

Park Board chairman John Coupar said he noticed traces of the oil on the seawall when the tide came in at 8:25 a.m. but said the spill doesn’t seem to have affected Spanish Banks or Jericho. The Burrard Civic Marina at the mouth of False Creek also seems to have escaped unscathed, he said.

But Craig Minielly, commodore for the False Creek Yacht Club, said there was concern that oil could be swept in with the afternoon tide, putting the marina’s 115 boats at risk.

“We’re right at the entrance to the creek,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, it’s a nasty bubble-gum stuff that sticks to paddle boards. If that should get into any marina or our boats, it would be a hell of a mess to clean up.”

Minielly questioned why the Coast Guard or Port Metro Vancouver didn’t alert the marinas of the spill, noting he could have put a notice out to boat owners before the tide came in overnight. He hopes the Coast Guard and city officials have since come up with a response plan that would protect the local marinas, especially given that oil has already been spotted on local beaches.

Steve Keenan was out for his weekly paddling practice in English Bay Wednesday night when he got a faint whiff of oil about a kilometer from Siwash Rock.

“You could smell a petroleum product and see a sheen in the water,” he said. “All around us there was just this film.

Keenan used WD40 to clean his carbon fibre boat, but the group is still debating what to use to get the oil off the six-man fibreglass kayak.

And there’s also the issue of the oil itself, with the city warning it could be toxic. “We splashed it. It was all over my clothes and my hand goes in the water with every stroke,” Keenan said, but added: “At least I didn’t fall in.”

Transport Canada officials and the Canadian Coast Guard have officials at the scene. The investigation and clean up efforts are expected to continue Thursday. Vancouver city officials and Vancouver police are also responding to the scene.

The Vancouver Aquarium and Marine Science Centre also said it would closely monitor the spill to determine whether it will affect aquatic species. Spokeswoman Deana Lancaster said the aquarium is sending a response team to ensure protection of any fish, seabirds and marine mammals that might be at risk, while Dr. Peter Ross was gathering samples at the local beaches.

The size and scope of the spill have not yet been determined, but Ben West, spokesman for the environmental advocacy group Tanker Free BC, said the spill is a reminder of a “nightmare scenario” that could happen if there is increased tanker traffic along the B.C. coast.

“It may actually be lucky that this is only bunker fuel and not bitumen,” he said, in a statement. “If this were a spill of tar sands oil and this much time had passed without it being contained, it likely would be game over for any kind of clean up.”

Greenpeace also said any oil spill is a disaster for marine life and for those who depend on a healthy ecosystem.

“While we don’t know how big this toxic spill is and the damage is still being tallied, we do know it pales in comparison with what could happen if new tar sands pipelines were built to the B.C. coast or if Shell’s Arctic drilling plans were to proceed,” Jessica Wilson, head of Greenpeace Canada’s Arctic campaign, said in a statement. (My comment~ But Greenpeace is just fine with oil being shipped by Rail! No problem with that eh?)

She noted this spill occurred in sheltered waters and with good weather conditions, while proposed pipelines would draw hundreds of oil supertankers through English Bay each year — often through storms and high seas.

(My comment~ Oil Tankers are to be double hulled! Marine Safety

The Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals Regulations under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 require any tanker built after July 6, 1993, to be double hulled to operate in Canadian waters. A double hull is a type of hull where the bottom and sides of a vessel have two complete layers of watertight hull surface.

Tankers that are not double hulled are being gradually phased out. For large crude oil tankers, the phase-out date for single-hulled vessels was 2010, so such vessels can no longer operate in Canadian waters. For smaller tankers, the phase-in period for double-hulled vessels ranges up to the end of 2014, depending on the size and age of the vessels. The International Maritime Organization phase-in period for double-hulled tankers worldwide will be fully implemented in 2015. )

From CBC

April 10th/2015   Clean Up Begins

A bufflehead duck covered in oil slick in Vancouver is too weak to be treated on Friday. It will be washed on Saturday if its condition improves.

A bufflehead duck covered in oil slick in Vancouver is too weak to be treated on Friday. It will be washed on Saturday if its condition improves. (Wildlife Rescue Association)


Efforts to clean up an oil spill in Vancouver’s English Bay and Stanley Park have moved from the ocean to the shoreline. 

Transport Canada said an aerial survey on Friday morning determined that almost all of the oil in the water had been cleaned up by skimmers on Thursday with only a few small patches remaining. The formal oil recovering and cleanup around the shoreline began around 2 p.m. PT. 

On Friday afternoon, Vancouver Park Board said the Seawall in Stanley Park was closed around Siwash Rock for the cleanup. 

Spreading slick

Spreading slick (CBC)


Roger Girouard, Canadian Coast Guard assistant commissioner, said cleanup efforts will now focus on shoreline areas, including West Vancouver’s Sandy Cove, where a slick 80 metres long and one metre wide had washed ashore along with seaweed and other debris. 

But he said the first step of the shoreline cleanup would be assessing the fragility of the marine environment to ensure the efforts would not further damage any ecosystems. 

Other assessments were also underway in West Vancouver’s Dundarave area and along the entire southern shoreline of English Bay. 

According to the city, “thousands of offers of help” have come in, however, the federal agencies says for now there in no opportunity for volunteers. Crews in protective gear with special expertise in oil recovery have been handling the work..

New vessel blamed for spill

Transport Canada has confirmed the estimated 2,700 litres of oil was bunker fuel from the vessel M/V Marathassa, as had been suspected.

The official cause of the leak has not been released, but officials believe it was due to an unintentional malfunction on board the vessel, which was on its maiden voyage after being launched from a Japanese shipyard in February. 

Officials expect the vessel’s owner will be liable for the full cost of the cleanup, as per Canadian laws. The vessel could be detained or a bond issued, they said. 

The spill was first spotted on Wednesday afternoon, and it took officials until midnight to confirm the source and put a boom around the cargo vessel.

There has been a handful of reports of water birds being affected by the spill, said officials. 

The Wildlife Rescue Association has found three bufflehead ducks on Second Beach that are too weak from being covered by fuel to be washed. They are currently being force-fed and while likely be washed tomorrow if their condition improves. 

According to the coast guard, there are also uncorroborated reports of a seal covered in oil.

From Global News

Spill Cleanup Becomes Centre of Spat as Politicians Point Fingers

B.C.’s premier and Vancouver’s mayor criticized the sluggish and inadequate response of the clean up operation by the coast guard on Friday.

Industry Minister James Moore reacted defensively, telling reporters that it was unhelpful to have politicians “piling on and spreading misinformation.”

“I think it’s highly inappropriate for any politician to start pointing fingers and trying to score political points, and taking jabs at other levels of government, without knowing all the facts, while the cleanup is still ongoing,” he said.

“I think what the public expects all of us to do is to act responsibly and in the public interest.”

The leak began Wednesday evening, but officials only confirmed on Friday that the grain-carrying MV Marathassa was in fact the source of the leak. About 80 per cent of the bunker fuel that spilled has been cleaned up.

Earlier Friday, Premier Christy Clark and Mayor Gregor Robertson held separate news conferences to criticize the Canadian Coast Guard, the federal agency responsible for spill cleanup.

Clark said that had the province been the lead agency, it could have done a better job. She added that she has contacted Ottawa, including the prime minister’s office, to demand changes.

“Somebody needs to do a better job of protecting this coast, and the coast guard hasn’t done it,” she said. “It is totally unacceptable that we don’t have the spill response that we require here and the federal government needs to step up.”

Robertson questioned why the city was not alerted until 13 hours after the spill and why it took so long to install an oil-absorbing boom around the ship.

“The response to what is a relatively small oil spill by historical standards has been totally inadequate,” he said.

“This really goes back to the lack of federal and provincial leadership to make sure that these efforts are co-ordinated, that there’s an immediate response to an oil spill in Vancouver’s waters, regardless of the scale of it, and that response was lacking.”

But Roger Girouard, the Canadian Coast Guard commissioner tasked with overseeing the cleanup, said that what had been achieved in the past few days was “exceptional.”

“You don’t contain 80 per cent of a spill inside 36 hours and call that inadequate,” he said. “I will not accept that definition of my team.”

City officials have said that the operator of a passing sailboat noticed an oil sheen in the water at about 5 p.m. Wednesday and called a pollution telephone line, which alerted the coast guard.

Girouard said such reports are not unusual in Vancouver. He said they realized by 8:30 p.m. that this was a significant event, and the port and police were contacted.

He said the oil-absorbing boom was installed by midnight — a three-hour turnaround he called “solid.” Girouard earlier said the boom was installed by 2 a.m., but revised the timeline Friday after receiving new information.

Girouard said the province, through Emergency Management B.C., was alerted Wednesday evening and it is their responsibility to contact city officials. However, he said the situation would be reviewed to ensure the city isn’t left in the dark again.

Transport Canada said the ship appeared to suffer a malfunction when it leaked about 2,700 litres of bunker fuel. The ship was built in Japan and had just come out of the shipyard in February.

A statement from the Marathassa’s owner, Alassia NewShips Management Inc., said all possible causes will be investigated, especially because that this was the vessel’s first voyage.

The Greece-based company thanked local authorities and said it is committed to a full and professional clean-up.

“Managers of the MV Marathassa emphatically state that the vessel’s insurance is fully compliant with Canadian law and duly in place. We have cooperated fully and will meet all our legal obligations arising out of this unfortunate incident.”

“We regret the incident and again, thank all those who are working to rectify the situation.”

The seawall near Siwash Rock in Stanley Park was closed Friday afternoon as the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, directed by the coast guard, began formal recovery and cleanup.

The Vancouver Park Board said the hardest-hit areas include the North Shore beaches, Sandy Cove, Ambleside and beaches in Stanley Park. Several oiled birds were taken to a refuge for treatment.

City staff are patrolling several areas and signs have been placed in English Bay warning people to stay away.

Girouard said owners of the Marathassa will be on the hook for the costs related to the spill, and a team will soon be working on the legal claims process.


 Canada has one of the best clean up regimes in the world. To have 80% of a spill cleaned up in 36 hours. My Southern cousins in the Gulf would have rejoiced if 80% of the Oil spill had been cleaned up in that short of a time a few years ago.

Of course we are now hearing about the pipelines once again that are to be built in BC to the West Coast. How dangerous they will be for the eco-system if one of those were to leak….or if one of the Oil tankers spills the oil.

This ship wasn’t carrying oil other than what it uses ( Bunker oil) as fuel. Any ship coming into or out of the harbour can have this problem. Do you think they will close down the Port cuz this could happen again? Of course not! It is one of the hazards of any Port…ships break down it is a fact of life.

I believe what the delay was due to is that they had to track down the ship. They didn’t know which one it was from the many that had departed or arrived that day. It is a very busy harbour, with ships coming and going constantly.

Glad though that the Alassia NewShips Management Inc. will be paying for the clean up.

~Blessed B~

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14 Responses to Oil Spills in Vancouver, B.C., Harbor

  1. Kathy says:

    Funny how Greenpeace didn’t waste a moment in using this situation to lash out at tar sands and compare the spill to a hypothetical leak. Ever pushing the cause…

    • Blessed B. says:

      Yep….. Greenpeace has to keep pushing that agenda….Oil is bad! Alberta Oil Sands is the worst polluter on the planet…. yada, yada, yada!

      • upaces88 says:

        Remember the BP Oil Spill? We all know th t Obama had peple do it because the Saudi(s) still had a little left….Then AFTER the spill, he stated tht we woud buy our Oil from Brazil…A corp. owned by George Soros.

        Kevin Costner (Actor) offered his own discovery…he was rejected

        BP bought Kevin Costner’s oil spill clean-up machines – despite field test failure
        Riiiiight…it failed, supposedly, so BP bought Costner out.


        • Blessed B. says:

          Yeah….I’m sure it failed! PFFT! It might have needed a little tweaking here and there but I don’t think BP would have purchased a dud for millions if it didn’t have some potential.

  2. Uriel says:

    Having worked in the oil industry, 1) while all are dangerous, oil spills in most waterways are logically far more dangerous as it is flowing and used by a wide group 2) the amount of spill from a tanker far exceeds what flows through a pipeline at any given time 3) if following safety procedures correctly, there are many gauges and instruments monitoring every inch of a pipeline 4) crews are constantly sweeping up and down pipelines for leaks. that is not to say accidents and problems don’t occur. But the area of problem is contained and not swept away down miles of precious water resources. The biggest problem I saw was the soaking into underwater water resources. which Is a real problem but again does not swiftly affect land and sea like tanker spills over thousands of miles.

    • Blessed B. says:

      I agree…..though with double-hulled tankers the likelihood of having a tanker spill is greatly reduced. Though the risk will never be totally eradicated.

      Rail cars filled with oil are a major risk. If the rail cars derail and break open into a waterway…there are no safety measures and environmental damage will occur.

      At least with the pipeline a leak can be detected quite quickly and reclamation of the spilled oil, with the new technology they have, will not produce the same environmental damage as the spill from railcars.

  3. Bullright says:

    A maiden voyage just since February. That is new and sounds like an accidental dump. So the captain could be charged.

  4. CW says:

    I think your comments on the article are an example of a very reasonable response, BB. That’s something that seems to be in short supply these days.

    The challenge of a modern society that has greatly extended life expectancy and quality of life through technology and commerce is to recognize that the benefits to humankind comes at the expense of certain risks. The risks need to be thoughtfully weighed against the benefits and kept in proper perspective. We’ve seen enough oil spills now to know that it’s not the ecological disaster environmentalists portray it to be, but at the same time we demand accountability by those responsible. That kind of balance makes the world go round.

    • Blessed B. says:

      There are risks to everything in life…we can’t get away from it.

      Even the green energy that these groups want has it’s own risks…..solar panels are very dirty to produce and there are no facilities to take them in once they no longer work, so they are put into dump sites. Windmills are made in China where they use coal still to produce electricity to run their manufacturing…so more pollution is made there.

      Until such time that these green groups and environmentalists come up with a real green solution to oil consumption, we will have to deal with the risks the best way we know how. Quick clean up and making those responsible for the spill accountable.

  5. Hardnox says:

    Good post and commentary.

    It’s a shame that it happened but it does happen. I was in Prudhoe Bay a year after the Exon Valdez mess and it was as if it never happened. A testament to the clean-up crews and technology.

    Btw, I never heard of anyone from Greenpeace offering to lend a hand to clean-up.

    • Blessed B. says:

      Thanks Boss!

      No…one never hears of Greenpeace or any other environmental group offering their assistance to clean up…..they don’t walk their talk very well!