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Number 7 of NEWS 1130’s Top 10 of 2015

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

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As the sun rose over English Bay one early April morning, it lit up an oily sheen stretching toward some of city’s most well-known beaches.

A bunker fuel spill from the anchored MV Marathasa may not have lingered long on our shorelines, but it left a lasting impression on many people in Vancouver.

On April 8th, the grain ship — on its maiden voyage from Japan — malfunctioned and sprung a leak, sending at least 2,700 litres of heavy, toxic sludge into the waters off downtown Vancouver.

By morning it had spread extensively with the view from the NEWS 1130 air patrol showing large patches surrounding the Marathasa and stretching toward the beaches of Stanley Park and heading for Burrard Inlet.

Through the morning, dog walkers and early beachgoers found sticky, brown globules of bunker fuel washed up on the rocks and sand along English Bay and on Second and Third beaches as the City of Vancouver issued warnings to avoid touching it.

“It was only a matter of time wasn’t it?” said one passerby. “It’s disgusting. I walk this seawall twice a week and I don’t see any birds on the water. I can’t believe they let it get this far.”

The question on the minds of many Vancouverites — was the response fast enough? The Coast Guard says it was alerted at 5pm and then immediately notified Port Metro Vancouver, the province and marine response crews.

However the city of Vancouver said it wasn’t notified until 6am, 13 hours after the spill was first spotted by a boater.

“We need far better coordination of all the partners,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in the days after the fuel leak. “We have to ensure that the Coast Guard, clean up crews, the provincial Ministry of Environment and the City are able to respond.”

The response from Victoria also pointed to a lapse in communication in the hours after the spill. “We are going to have to come up with a better way of doing this,” said Premier Christy Clark. “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.”

A report released in July found that uncertainty of roles and responsibilities, miscommunications and technical difficulties resulted in an almost two-hour delay in response after the slick’s discovery and made 25 recommendations to improve future spill responses.

In the end, six kilometres of beaches were slicked and there was a limited impact on wildlife but in October specialists from the Vancouver Aquarium expressed frustration with a lack of long term monitoring and said that little is known about any lingering effects on sea life.

“I’d like to be able to say we have the answers to that very important question but in many ways, we really don’t know,” says Dr. Peter Ross, director of the Ocean Pollution Research Program at the Vancouver Aquarium.

“At this point, we do not have a good understanding of what has happened over the long term. Unfortunately, that is just a lack of resources and a lack of focus or energy from any party to carry out a long term study.”