No fines levied eight months after English Bay oil spill

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

As the year draws to a close, Global BC is looking back at some of the top stories that helped shape our province in 2015. We are following up with the people behind these stories and looking at the impact these stories had on British Columbians. Today, we are looking back at the English Bay oil spill, the aftermath and whether the polluter has faced any consequences yet. 

On April 9, Vancouverites woke up to the news of oil washing up on the shores of English Bay and the Stanley Park Seawall.

They were told to stay away from local beaches and avoid any contact with the oily substance.

The spill began on the evening of April 8, but it took a few days to confirm that Cypriot grain-carrying MV Marathassa was in fact the source of the fuel leak.

Transport Canada said the ship appeared to suffer a malfunction when it leaked about 2,700 litres of Bunker C fuel on its maiden voyage to Vancouver, launching a massive clean-up effort.

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The accident led to a squabble between local, provincial and federal government about the adequacy of the response.

READ MORE: Vancouver oil spill cleanup becomes centre of spat as politicians point fingers

City mayor Gregor Robertson questioned why the city was not alerted until 13 hours after the spill and why it took so long to install an oil-absorbing boom around the ship. His concerns were echoed by B.C. Premier Christy Clark. But Roger Girouard, the Canadian Coast Guard commissioner tasked with overseeing the cleanup, said that the response was “exceptional.”

In the aftermath of the spill, it was made known that the operators of the MV Marathassa have agreed to pay for the clean-up and the ship was allowed to leave Canadian waters.

READ MORE: Vessel that spilled fuel in B.C. deemed safe, allowed to leave Canadian waters

But, eight months later, have any measures been taken against the polluter?

Transport Canada told Global News they are continuing their investigation and the vessel owners have been cooperating. But they would not speculate on the amount of any enforcement fines or penalties, and would only say “the operators of the MV Marathassa have undertaken to pay for the clean-up and to appear in any future legal proceedings or prosecutions that could lead to potential fines being levied against them.”

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Under the Marine Liability Act, the polluter is always responsible for paying the cost of an oil spill cleanup, including third party damages. This means that if a ship causes a spill, its owner is liable for losses and damages.

The maximum penalty provisions include a fine of $1 million or 18 months imprisonment.

Meanwhile, the city of Vancouver says it did not pay for any share of the oil spill cleanup.  In terms of other costs related to the oil spill response, the city will be submitting the necessary documents for cost reimbursement from the responsible party in early 2016. The Canadian Coast Guard says it is also still in the process of preparing its claim for the response to the incident, which will be submitted to the polluter for payment.

Spokeswoman Barbara Mottram says the Coast Guard undertook a review of internal and external reporting protocols and as the result of this review, protocols have been updated to ensure that key partners are notified of an incident as soon as possible and all appropriate actions are initiated to minimize the consequences of a spill and protect public safety.

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The city, along with the Coast Guard, are currently working with First Nations, local, provincial and federal partners to develop a Burrard Inlet-specific oil spill response plan to be completed in 2016.