Three years after English Bay fuel spill, Vancouver says it’s seen no compensation
It has been three years since the MV Marathassa leaked 2,700 litres of bunker fuel into English Bay, and the City of Vancouver says it still hasn’t seen a dime in compensation for its estimated half-a-million dollar cleanup costs.
He said the city has now filed a case in federal court against the ship’s alleged owner, Greek shipping company Alassia NewShips Management Inc. The company has denied owning the vessel.
“We’ve spent three years now fighting for our taxpayers to be compensated for the cost to the city, about $550,000, through the federal government process, the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund (SOPF),” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson Sunday.
“That fund is supposed to act on behalf of affected parties like the City of Vancouver, the Coast Guard or the BC Ministry of Environment who have put costs into dealing with an oil spill, and compensate us and then go after the ship owners.”
The city says it filed a compensation claim with the pollution fund and representatives of the ship in February 2017. Robertson said more than a year later, the federal government has offered the city 27 per cent of the cleanup cost in compensation, something he called “unacceptable.”
“It’s ridiculous that it’s taken over three years now fighting for the costs to be covered for an oil spill in our harbour.”
WATCH: Have lessons been learned from the English Bay oil spill?
In an email, legal counsel for the SOPF David Cote acknowledged it had received a claim from the city, which he said was filed two years after the spill and “before the time limitation to do so.”
He said no formal offer of compensation has yet been made to the city, and that “only a draft and informal discussion have taken place. In due course a formal offer will issue.”
Robertson and Park Board Chair Stuart Mackinnon also sought Sunday to link the Marathassa spill to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline, which would increase tanker traffic through the harbour seven-fold.
“Vancouver’s concerns have been ignored with respect to oil tankers. And here we have a clear example of an oil spill, a small oil spill relative to Kinder Morgan scale,” Robertson said.
“This is a tiny fraction of what could spill, and we can’t get back the half-a-million dollars that we’ve put forward of taxpayers money.”
“If there is a spill, it won’t be bunker oil,” added MacKinnon.
“It will be [diluted bitumen], which is not something that’s easily cleaned off the rocks, not easily cleaned off the sand, not easily cleaned off the beaches and the seawall area.”
WATCH: Charges finally laid in 2015 English Bay oil spill
According to the SOPF website, “a person who has suffered loss or damage from oil pollution from a spill from a ship (or imminent risk thereof) may also file a claim directly with the Fund” for compensation.
The fund also acts as a “Fund of Last Resort” for claimants who have taken all reasonable steps to recover costs from a polluter, but have failed.
It says about $5 million was paid out from the fund in 2016-2017.
Transport Canada recommended 10 pollution-related charges against the vessel and its alleged owners, in a case that went to trial in February.
However, that trial was scrapped after a BC Court of Appeal judge ruled Alassia had not been properly served a summons.
WATCH: 2-hour delay in fuel spill response could have been avoided: report
The Cypriot grain hauler MV Marathassa leaked the fuel into English Bay on April 8, 2015. It was cleared to leave Canadian waters after its operators agreed to pay for the cleanup.
The incident also revealed gaps in communications and cleanup capacity, with the City of Vancouver not notified about the spill until more than 12 hours later.
An independent review commissioned by the Canadian Coast Guard found a lack of understanding of roles and responsibilities in oil spill assessment by the Coast Guard and the Port of Vancouver, along with miscommunications between both parties and the company tasked with actually cleaning up the spill.
It also revealed an avoidable two-hour delay in initiating spill response, and noted that while the first report of pollution in the water came in at 5 p.m., an oil-absorbing boom was not put in place until midnight.
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