Aerial view of diesel containment efforts from the U.S. tugboat Nathan E. Stewart

B.C. ‘cheated’ on spill response, Clark says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Transport Minister Marc Garneau in B.C. Monday for announcement of Coast Guard upgrades

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Transport Minister Marc Garneau arrived in B.C. for an announcement on coastal spill protection, Premier Christy Clark told supporters it’s time for Ottawa to right a historic wrong and fix the Coast Guard imbalance on the Pacific side.

“We have been cheated by the federal government for a long time while resources go to the east,” Clark told 1,300 delegates at the B.C. Liberal Party’s pre-election convention in Vancouver Sunday. “And this prime minister has the chance to change it, and I believe that he is going to be the one that does it.”

Garneau toured Bella Bella and the cleanup operation Sunday after a U.S. tugboat and empty fuel barge ran aground while returning from Alaska on Oct. 13. The crew was rescued by a Coast Guard lifeboat from Bella Bella, and the tugboat sank in shallow water after being battered by heavy seas, where some of its diesel fuel leaked out.

After Trudeau tours Vancouver Harbour on the Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier Monday morning, he is expected to announce new measures.

B.C. government officials have asked Ottawa to provide capability to respond to a vessel in distress anywhere on the B.C. coast, in the worst of weather, in three hours or less. Incidents like the freighter Simushir that lost power and drifted towards Haida Gwaii in 2014 need an estimated three-hour response time to keep them from grounding.

That means three heavy rescue tugboats, one at Vancouver, one at Port Renfrew to dispatch to tankers and other vessels in outer Canadian waters, and a third at Prince Rupert to protect the North Coast.

B.C. estimates the cost of the tugs from $25 million to $50 million, plus a new course at B.C. Institute of Technology to train additional pilots and crews. B.C.’s 11 requests for Ottawa also include upgrading Prince Rupert’s Coast Guard station and a new agreement with the United States to respond to spills that cross borders in the north and south.

The B.C. government commissioned a study in 2013 that showed most of the crude oil traffic along the B.C. coast is from Alaska, and crude oil is only a third of the volume of shipped petroleum. Bunker oil used as fuel for all heavy ships and lighter fuels barged to coastal communities account for the rest.

A second report for B.C. released in February examined practices in Australia, Europe, the U.S., Norway and the ship escort system used in Prince William Sound, Alaska after the crude oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989.

The Alaska system includes a network of trained, on-call fishing vessels and crew that can provide an immediate first response to incidents at sea.

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