Updated 19/10/2016: Slow Response To Environmental Disaster

By October 17, 2016Extras
Updated October 19, 2016.  A storm warning in effect for the central coast today is impeding response operations around the sunken tug Nathan E. Stewart and its diesel spill. On this day seven of emergency response, small boats have been told to stand down until further notice. Teams began pumping the remaining fuel from the sunken vessel on Monday afternoon, but the process was not completed before all operations were placed on hold for the weather. Responders are concerned that the tug may move in the storm, worsening the fuel spill and making subsequent recovery efforts of the vessel more difficult.

An aerial tour over the incident site yesterday confirmed that the damage is extensive. “It’s very clear from the air that the wider spill is nowhere close to contained. The sheer size of the sheen is sickening,” said Jess Housty, elected councillor for the Heiltsuk First Nation. “This incident should demonstrate clearly not just that we deserve greater recognition of our authority and our capacity, but that it would be wise for other levels of government to invest in our local community and our ability to care for this place.”

The statement by the Assistant Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard on the CBC All Points West show, which indicated that Kirby Corporation has deposited $100,000 into an account for the Heiltsuk community’s needs, was incorrect. Kirby has not yet provided payment to the Heiltsuk. The Heiltsuk Nation has made a request that Kirby Corporation cover operating expenses related to their response efforts including food, fuel, additional staff hours, and boats charters, but has not received a response. Heiltsuk will also be seeking compensation for the impact on its harvests and other damages.

spill  credit Ingmar Lee.

 Pictured At left Spill as seen from boat. Photo credit Ingmar Lee       areal spill
                                           Pictured At right Areal photo of spill area. Photo credit Marilyn Slett
Heiltsuk Nation declares response of industry, federal and provincial governments wholly inadequate.

Submitted.  The fallout from last week’s sinking of the Kirby Corporation’s Nathan E. Stewart continues to unfold. Only 6,554 gallons of the 59,924 gallons of diesel onboard the tug were able to be pumped from the vessel before it sank in Heiltsuk Territory on the morning of October 13th. Since then, the sunken vessel has been leaking diesel into an area of enormous ecological, economic, and cultural significance to the Heiltsuk Nation.

The response effort has been impacted by slow response time, a lack of boats, appropriate equipment, and personnel, and failed containment efforts by industry and the federal and provincial governments. Spilled diesel has already fully blanketed the most important clam beds in Heiltsuk Territory. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has been forced to declare an emergency chemical contaminant closure of shellfish fisheries for 11 sub-areas around the spill site. This closure area covers the vast majority of Heiltsuk manila clam harvesting grounds, leaving only two sites unaffected.

Hot tapping of the tug, the first step towards removing the remaining fuel from the sunken vessel, is anticipated to begin today and may take several days to complete. Until then, the fuel spill will continue to worsen.

“The Heiltsuk are heartbroken and angry over this environmental disaster. We don’t know how many years or decades it will be before we are able to harvest in these waters again,” said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “Yet our community members are heroic. The overwhelming majority of vessels out on the water are Heiltsuk volunteer crews. Our community members are doing their best to assist with response efforts, but have not been receiving adequate direction or training from the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation in charge of the clean up.”

“Recent press seems to suggest that containment efforts have been successful. Let me set the record straight: containment has not been successful, and clean-up efforts have barely begun,” stated Heiltsuk On-Scene Commander William Housty. “The damage has been done, and the best we can work towards is mitigation.”

Heiltsuk have sought to interview the Kirby Corporation’s crew members involved in the incident, but neither Kirby nor Transport Canada has provided access to the crew members. Heiltsuk have requested that Kirby provide its incident information, but none has been provided.

DFO has been noticeably absent from the scene. “Where are the nation-to-nation relationships we have been promised? It is evident that Indigenous communities bear not only the risks of tanker traffic like this, but apparently also the responsibility for clean-up. This is unacceptable,” stated Slett.

The Heiltsuk Nation has launched an investigation of the incident. Please donate here to support the financial costs borne by the Heiltsuk Nation for the clean-up and inquiry: https://fundrazr.com/c1At54?ref=sh_460ol9

Pictured above: Diesel slick along shore . Image credit Megan Humchitt

Leave a Reply