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Oil spill shows increased tanker traffic could have dire consequences: environmentalists

FILE: Fuel spill in English Bay (April 9/15) (Chad Dey, NEWS 1130 Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Although Port Metro Vancouver continues to insist the spill in English Bay is a small one, environmentalists say it speaks to a bigger issue.

Ben West with Forest Ethics says although this did not involve an oil tanker, it’s a sign that increased tanker traffic in the area could come with catastrophic consequences.

“Even if it is small, I think this is a good reminder that this stuff is toxic. Even small amounts of it can be really problematic. It’s interesting to see how the city is reacting already, just watching all the photos roll in.”

He says the spill should be seen as a wake-up call for those who say tankers pose little risk. “It’s an opportunity to really think twice about increased traffic in our inlet.”

People in the West End angry, worried about wildlife

Greg lives near English Bay and tells us he understands that the Port brings a lot to our local economy. But he still struggles to understand how a spill like this can happen.

“It’s got to make you wonder how this actually happens. What are the safety factors?” he wonders.

“It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it?” says Steve, who also lives in the area. “It’s absolutely disgusting. I walk this wall twice a week and I don’t see any birds on the water.”

Environmental standards largely depend on where vessels are from: expert

It’s believed the source of the toxic bunker fuel is a grain ship from overseas.

“When they’re in international waters… they fall under the jurisdiction of whatever country is associated with the flag that their vessel is flying,” explains researcher Dana Miller with UBC’s Fisheries Centre.

‘Different countries have various different reputations for enforcing minimum standards of environmental protection or safety on the vessels that fly their flag,” she adds.

She points out this spill happened at a time when there is so much attention on the issue of possible oil spills from tankers.

“This is different because it doesn’t appear to be a spill from a vessel that’s carrying oil as fuel; it’s from a vessel that’s carrying a different product. We have to realize that a lot of different types of vessels that come in and out of port here in Vancouver… Not all of them are carrying oil as cargo,” she tells us.

“Some are carrying quite a lot of oil as cargo. And these vessels are also a risk to our local environment. If they are involved in some sort of spill, bunker oil can also cause damage to the environment,” adds Miller.

She notes the fuel could affect the health of fish in the area, but admits it would be much worse if it was a spill from an oil tanker.