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A lot of blame floating around one week after fuel spill

FILE: A diesel spill in English Bay in April, 2015. (Mike Lloyd, NEWS 1130 Photo) (Mike Lloyd, NEWS 1130 Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – It has been a week since an estimated 2,700 litres of bunker fuel spilled from a freighter in English Bay, but there is still a lot of blame floating around over the way the response was handled.

Coast Guard Commissioner Jody Thomas says the agency’s handling of the spill was excellent, but City Manager Penny Ballem is frustrated about the limited information that trickled out in the hours following the spill.

“There is a lot of finger pointing at different levels of government for not taking responsibility for what happened here,” says crisis communications expert Lesli Boldt.

“I think what wasn’t done well is that for the first 12 or 13 hours of the crisis, it didn’t seem like anyone knew what was going on, whether it was authorities or the public,” she tells News1130.

“That’s a problem, particularly with a spill that, even though they say it’s small, has had a huge impact on Burrard Inlet and the beaches.”

What was done well? Boldt says the City of Vancouver and the Coast Guard both responded quickly once they did get the information.

“I think the city, in particular, took a leadership role with the police and fire departments jumping in to try to assess what was happening and inform the public about it.”

She also believes the Coast Guard hasn’t been clear enough about where there may have been problems with communication.

“If they are going to say there was a breakdown in communications, they need to identify where that happened and tell the public about how it’s not going to happen again. People are concerned about oil spills in this region, for obvious reasons, so they need to assure us that if something like this happens, they are going to be on it quickly.”

Boldt also takes issue with MP James Moore’s assertion that federal response to the spill was “world class.”

“I don’t think it’s credible … we don’t believe it here. I don’t think his way of handling this holds a lot of water.”

But she adds Moore was put in a difficult position. “The Tories made a decision to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and now people are looking at that and asking if it would have made a difference if it was still there. We don’t really know the answer to that, but it does indeed put the federal government in a difficult position.”

Boldt says the take-away for every agency involved is that they need to be communicating clearly and quickly with each other, the media and the public during a crisis.  “I don’t think that happened here, but I’m sure it will next time.”