The Pacific Pilotage Authority has brought in tougher conditions for vessels transporting petroleum products along the B.C. coast, and Premier Christy Clark has renewed her call for a better oil-spill-response regime in the wake of a tug accident near Bella Bella.
The developments come 11 days after the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground on a reef while pushing a massive fuel barge south through Seaforth Channel, in the Great Bear Rainforest.
In a related move, the Transportation Safety Board, which has been gathering information about the accident since last week, said in a statement Monday that it has launched a formal investigation.
The barge, which was empty, has been salvaged, but the tugboat, which contained 226,840 litres of diesel fuel, remains hard aground. Crews have been pumping diesel and oil out of the tug's tanks, but an unknown amount has escaped, staining the water with slicks and polluting clam beaches valued by the Heiltsuk Nation.
In an effort to improve safety, the PPA issued new conditions Monday which apply to ships that are larger than 350 gross tons but less than 10,000 gross tons, and which are transporting petroleum products as cargo.
The new measures require a vessel's Master to be on the bridge when travelling through nine designated areas, including the central coast around Bella Bella and First and Second Narrows in Vancouver harbour.
Such vessels are also instructed not to travel through the Inside Passage when north of Vancouver Island, but instead to stay farther offshore, between Haida Gwaii and the mainland. But Brian Young, director of marine operations for the PPA, said vessels can still use the Inside Passage when weather is difficult.
The new conditions do not apply to vessels that are delivering fuel to remote communities on the B.C. coast, Mr. Young said, because inside routes have to be used to reach many of those sites.
In a statement, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council welcomed the PPA changes.
"While it's regrettable that it took a diesel spill in Heiltsuk waters to get these safeguards in place, we appreciate that PPA chief executive officer Kevin Obermeyer reached out and came to our community," said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett.
Shortly after the accident, Heiltsuk leaders were critical of the spill response, saying it took too long – more than 20 hours – for crews to get to the site from a base in Prince Rupert 330 km to the north.
Ms. Clark has said she agrees with the critics, and in a recent Facebook posting called for Ottawa to improve spill-response standards.
"We have done extensive research into best practices about how marine response on our coast could reach world-class standards, and shared those ideas with Ottawa," she wrote. "It's time for Ottawa to take action and put in place the required resources across our coast to protect B.C.'s marine environment."
Ms. Clark has said B.C. won't support the building of oil pipelines to the West Coast until a world-class oil-spill response is in place, and other conditions are met.
But Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, said the spill and an earlier one in Vancouver harbour where the response came under attack for being slow, shows that Victoria and Ottawa can't meet the pipeline condition.
"The provincial and federal governments' ability to respond to spills is nowhere near 'world class' – it is not even passingly adequate," said Mr. Weaver in a statement.
He also called on the B.C. government to tell the Heiltsuk how they will be compensated for the environmental damage to their traditional waters.
Kirby Offshore Marine, the U.S. company that owns the tugboat, said in an e-mail Monday that it isn't clear yet how much of the vessel's diesel fuel and oil has spilled.
"All of the tanks have been pumped out, including the lube oil and hydraulic oil etc. We do not have an estimate yet of the total fuel recovered. That will be determined once the fuel settles out from the [recovered] water," the company stated.
A unified command situation report, issued by the industry-funded cleanup crew, states that divers on Sunday found the tugboat's lube oil tank "was damaged and the bottom of the tank was open to the seafloor below."
The tug was carrying 2,420 litres of lube oil, and the situation report indicates much of it was lost. "It was confirmed that there was no product in the tank," the report states.
But the lube tank did contain 1,204 litres of mixed oil and water, which was pumped out.
A bilge tank, which had contained 3,670 litres of dirty bilge, "was also severely damaged," the report stated, and an unknown quantity of bilge was spilled.