Oil spill 90 per cent cleared but slick reaches beaches north of city

Coast guard commissioner Jody Thomas: assessing the response now would be a 'rush to judgment'

A spill response boat monitors a boom placed around the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa after a bunker fuel spill on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

A spill response boat monitors a boom placed around the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa after a bunker fuel spill on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

VANCOUVER – The federal coast guard is defending itself against the latest round of criticism to its oil-spill response in Vancouver’s harbour amid questions about how the slick washed up on beaches to the north.

An Environment Canada official confirmed Tuesday that oil had spread to West Vancouver beaches, even as the coast guard said the spill had been 90 per cent contained.

Coast guard commissioner Jody Thomas said assessing the response while the multi-agency cleanup and investigation was still underway would be a “rush to judgment.”

She disputed statements by B.C.’s environment minister, Mary Polak, who chastised the coast guard for not assuming control of the spill that began Wednesday until Friday.

“She is incorrect,” Thomas told a news conference, where she was flanked by seven other officials from various agencies.

She said coast guard crews were dispatched immediately to manage the spill and look for its source as they worked alongside the Western Canada Marine Response Corp., and Port Metro Vancouver.

“Coast guard was running instant command from Wednesday evening,” Thomas said.

Environment Canada spokesman Carl Brown didn’t specify when the slick reached West Vancouver or how much turned up.

“Oil moves fairly rapidly on the surface of water based on the currents that exist, based on a portion of the winds and also based on the tides,” he said on the phone from Ottawa.

“Early on we were tasked with doing some spill modeling and we were able to predict where the oil would go and it did show some impact on those beaches.”

Teams from Transport Canada, Environment Canada and B.C.’s Ministry of the Environment were also contributing efforts to fully contain the spill.

The bunker fuel leaked from the grain carrier MV Marathassa, and on Tuesday, nearly a week after the spill, workers were cleaning the bottom of the vessel and scrubbing other soiled boats in the area.

Divers were also examining the Marathassa as efforts to clean the shoreline continued and the water column was being monitored.

Thomas said she doesn’t expect the estimate of 2,700 litres of leaked bunker fuel will differ significantly as more data is collected.

“It will become more precise over weeks, not hours. They have a lot of work to do going forward.”

She refused to say whether there have been any shortcomings in procedure that might lead to any policy change, adding information is still being collected.

“We don’t know yet if there were any problems,” she said. “And so to say I’ve fixed something before I know what has occurred would be an error.”

Medical health officer James Lu of Vancouver Coastal Health, could not say when the city’s beaches would re-open.

Some 20 to 30 waterfowl were being rehabilitated, although Saul Schneider of the Canadian Wildlife Service said one bufflehead sea duck had to be euthanized while other birds were being treated.

“Expect capture efforts to be ramping up as of today,” he said.

Concerns lingered about the potential long-term effects of the spill, but a Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokeswoman who moderated the news conference said no one was available to discuss any such issues.

Transport Canada investigators have identified mechanical problems aboard the ship from Japan. They also say another unrelated problem contributed to the spill but haven’t released details citing an ongoing investigation.

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