Report: Denial by shipowner delayed Vancouver oil spill response

Mv Marathassa Vessel

The following is the text of a news release from Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

(VANCOUVER, British Columbia) — An independent review of the M/V Marathassa incident has found that denial by the polluter that the vessel was leaking fuel was among several key factors that complicated the identification of the source of the spill and caused an initial delay in recognizing the magnitude of the incident.

This was among the findings of the independent review of the M/V Marathassa fuel oil spill which was released in a press conference here today by its author John Butler.

According to the report, despite uncertainty as to the source of the spill, the Coast Guard and its partners ensured skimming began almost immediately, which was the right response. Shortly after, resources were deployed to put a significant amount of containment boom around the suspected vessel as a precautionary measure. The review found that by April 9 “the operational response proceeded remarkably well, as the source had been located and controlled with boom and the on water cleanup and recovery operation was proceeding as expected.”

The report also identified a number of areas where response protocols could be improved and more strictly adhered to and offered 25 recommendations for implementation by the Coast Guard and its partners. Key among them are:

• Ensuring the Coast Guard has adequate staff to respond to a major marine pollution incident in any part of its region at any given time; 
• Continuing implementation of the Incident Command System, including exercises with all partners, First Nations, provincial and municipal partners, and non-governmental organizations as part of the plan;
• Developing simplified quick reference tools for Incident Command Post members who are not familiar with the roles and responsibilities of Incident Command positions;
• Ensuring roles are rapidly assigned and explained to members who join the Incident Command Post;
• Ensuring accurate information is released by Unified Command and/or Incident Command as soon as possible regarding the type, quantity and fate and effects of a pollutant, including any information that is related to public health concerns;
• Developing an accelerated regional approval process with respect to factual operational information during an incident, similar to the current procedures for sharing information in search and rescue incidents; and
• Developing a rapidly deployable communications and IT system that facilitates a more effective and timely electronic interface with partner agencies during an incident.

Coast Guard Commissioner Jody Thomas welcomed the report and thanked Butler for gathering partners’ input, his thorough analysis, and well-informed recommendations. She outlined an action plan for their full implementation and advised the Coast Guard has already taken proactive actions in line with many of the recommendations.

“Job one in a spill is to get the oil contained and collected as soon as possible," Thomas said. "Even amid uncertainty about the source of the spill, we skimmed and then boomed the suspected vessel anyway, and began the process of recovering the spilled fuel. So job one was well done. In other areas, there is room for improvement. This is why we commissioned this review — to get to the bottom of what didn’t go as well as it should have and incorporate those lessons into our practices. I can assure you we take this very seriously, recognize how significant this was for Vancouverites, and that our actions to incorporate lessons learned are already well underway.”

Quick facts

• Western Canada Marine Response Corp. mobilized to English Bay 48 minutes after they were activated, well within CCG’s standard of mobilizing resources within six hours of completion of the assessment.
• Factors that the report says delayed the positive identification of the M/V Marathassa as the source of the spill included the denial by the polluter that the spill originated with the Marathassa and the movement of the fuel oil in the tide.
• The Government of Canada accepts all of the recommendations pertaining to it made by Butler in his independent report. Work is well underway to fully address all of these recommendations.

Click here to read the complete review.

By Professional Mariner Staff