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British Columbia Oil spill expert denies Coast Guard's claim about Vancouver fuel leak

A spill response boat secures a boom around the bulk carrier cargo ship MV Marathassa after a bunker fuel spill on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on April 9, 2015. Contrary to the Canadian Coast Guard’s claim, oil expert Steven Candito says the response may have been too slow.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A U.S. oil spill expert says he never described the Canadian Coast Guard's response to a fuel leak on Vancouver's English Bay as "exceptional," despite the Coast Guard's claim.

In fact, Steven Candito, president of the National Response Corporation, one of the largest oil-spill removal operations in the world, says the Coast Guard's response may have been too slow.

The fuel spill was reported around 5 p.m. on April 8 by a person on a sailboat. The Coast Guard has said it did not recognize the seriousness of the spill until 8 p.m. It has said a boom was secured around the leaking vessel, the MV Marathassa, by 5:53 a.m.

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The Coast Guard's response has been criticized by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, B.C. Premier Christy Clark, and some area residents. Mr. Robertson has said it took too long for the boom to be put in place, and has also taken issue with the fact the city wasn't notified about the spill for more than 12 hours after the original report.

The Coast Guard has vigorously defended its efforts. In a lengthy statement April 12, Commissioner Jody Thomas said: "The Canadian Coast Guard's response to the Marathassa spill was exceptional by international standards, a fact corroborated by a U.S. oil spill expert."

The Twitter account for Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Pacific region also referenced an unidentified U.S. oil spill expert. It initially said the expert called the response "adequate." It later said the expert deemed the response "quick and effective."

A request to the Canadian Coast Guard last week for more information on the U.S. expert was referred to Transport Canada. A Transport Canada spokeswoman then said the question should be redirected to the Coast Guard. A Coast Guard spokesman this week identified Mr. Candito as the expert.

Mr. Candito, in a phone interview, said he has not followed the Vancouver spill very closely, though he did conduct an interview with CBC on April 10. He said he was surprised his comments had been referenced by the Coast Guard.

Mr. Candito noted that at the time of the CBC interview the Coast Guard said the boom had been in place by midnight, a response he then characterized as "fairly good." The Coast Guard later revised the containment time to just before 6 a.m., which Mr. Candito told The Globe seemed slow for a spill that took place so close to a major city.

"It sounds like it took too long," he said.

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"… These are obviously very difficult things to evaluate if you don't have all the facts. In that context, yeah, I would say to get [the] boom in the water around a vessel that's berthed in a harbour like Vancouver where there's presumably a lot of resources, it shouldn't take 12 hours, right?"

Mr. Candito said the public is always concerned when a spill occurs, and rightly so. But he said each spill is different and sometimes the public outcry can go too far. He said mystery spills, in which neither the source of the leak nor the material involved is immediately known, can prove a challenge.

Frank Stanek, a Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokesperson, in an e-mail Thursday said it still considers the Coast Guard's response "exceptional, as evidenced by the trace amounts of oil remaining on the shores."

The Coast Guard has said 80 per cent of the spill was recovered within 36 hours. Mr. Candito, when asked about that figure during the CBC interview, said he would expect a better recovery rate in an enclosed harbour but 80 per cent was still "very good."

Mr. Stanek did not provide a response to a question about Mr. Candito now indicating the response time may have been too slow.

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