Seven hours after a toxic fuel leak on Vancouver's English Bay was first reported, a boom was set up around the affected vessel – a response the city's mayor and the B.C. Premier call inadequate, although the Coast Guard says it was "exceptional."
Approximately 2,700 litres of fuel spilled into the bay after an anchored bulk carrier named the MV Marathassa began leaking bunker fuel. The ship was on its maiden voyage and in Vancouver to pick up grain. The exact cause of the spill has not been determined.
The spill set off a round of political finger-pointing Friday among the municipal, provincial and federal leaders, and takes place amid a debate about new pipeline projects that would increase the amount of tanker traffic along the West Coast.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, speaking at a news conference, criticized the length of time it took to set up the boom and the fact the city was not notified about the spill for 13 hours. The city then urged residents to avoid the water and beaches.
The spill was first reported around 5 p.m. Wednesday by a person in a sailboat. Roger Girouard, Canadian Coast Guard assistant commissioner, said it was about 8 p.m. when his agency realized the spill was serious.
Although Mr. Girouard initially said the boom wasn't set up until after 2 a.m., on Friday he said it was closer to midnight. He said the first few hours are always murky and marine incidents around Vancouver are common.
"I think that's a real solid outcome," he said. Mr. Girouard said 80 per cent of the leaked fuel was recovered within 36 hours, which he called "tremendously rare."
He was joined at his news conference by federal Industry Minister James Moore, who said the Coast Guard's response to the spill was world class.
Mr. Robertson and B.C. Premier Christy Clark disagreed. "Here we have an example of a spill taking place and the response was totally inadequate," the mayor said.
Mr. Robertson didn't reserve his criticism for the federal government – he said the province had also shown a lack of leadership.
Ms. Clark said she, too, was disappointed with how long it took to get the boom in place and said "we do not have world-class spill response on our coast."
She said the problem was not a shortage of resources.
"It's a shortage of perhaps good judgment, a shortage of nimbleness," she said. "Because goodness knows we'd have a much smaller problem now if they'd looked after it quicker."
Mr. Girouard said the national standard for a response is about six hours.
He has said it was the province's duty to notify the city about the spill, through the agency Emergency Management B.C. But Ms. Clark has said that was the Coast Guard's responsibility.
Gerald Graham, of Worldocean Consulting, said the spill response appeared a bit slow, though it's too early to tell. Mr. Graham is a Canadian Coast Guard trained commander for oil-spill response.
Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, preparedness section manager at the Washington State department of ecology's spills program, said it was hard to say whether the response was adequate. She said it's never easy to get to a spill as quickly as people would like.
Ms. Clark said her government has contacted Ottawa about the spill response and could push for change.
"We're going to have to come up with a better way of doing this. And if that means that in the future the Coast Guard is relieved of their lead in this and starts taking direction from the province, then perhaps that's a better way to do it," she said.
Mr. Moore said no decisions will be made until all the facts are known and he cautioned against jumping to conclusions, calling the words of the other political leaders "irresponsible."
"We will learn from this moment and we will ensure that Canada has the best spill response regime," he said.
The ship, which is managed by Greece-based Alassia NewShips Management Inc., issued a statement that said it was thankful for the local clean-up response and would help determine what happened.
Mr. Girouard said the 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. The closing of a Vancouver coast guard base sparked immense controversy two years ago. Mr. Girouard said that base wouldn't have played a role in the spill response, since it was a search-and-rescue outfit.
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.
With a report from the Canadian Press