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Environment

A Toxic Fuel Spill Hits Popular Vancouver Beach, Kids and Dogs Play in Water as Warnings Aren’t Heard

Despite warnings, there were a number of children and dogs playing in the affected water. When asked why, the general response was they were unaware of the situation.

by Negar Mojtahedi
Apr 10 2015, 3:32pm

English Bay. All photos by the author

For oil-tanker critics, it was only a question of "when" not "if" an oil spill would occur. Their worst fears became reality in the waters of Vancouver, British Columbia when toxic fuel spilled Wednesday afternoon.

"I have oil in my fingers. It actually breaks my heart that I thought my Salish Sea would ever be protected," said Shirley Samples, from the group We Love this Coast, as she looked onto the oily sheen covering a large part of the formerly pristine waters.

Approximately 2,700 litres of bunker fuel had spilled into English Bay, downtown Vancouver's most popular beach, but by Thursday night a majority of it, about 80 percent, had been cleaned up. The feds confirmed Friday morning that the spill came from grain tanker Marathassa, anchored in the middle of Burrard Inlet. A boom was placed around the vessel in question about six hours after the spill had occurred.

Transport Canada said Friday morning their appears to have been a malfunction on the Marathassa but their investigation is on-going.

Samples cried when she heard toxic fuel had spilled out into English Bay. It's an incident she believes proves the risk of an oil spill is not low.

"We could lose our whole coastline. There are so many creatures in our coastline that have no say in what happens," she added. Brian Falconer, marine operations program coordinator at Raincoast Conservation Foundation, agrees about the immense dangers this spill poses to wildlife. He says any birds that come into contact with the oil will die.

"Virtually any bird [that] encounters it... is going to die. It only takes a few drops of oil to destroy the thermal insulation of a seabird. Once their insulation is gone they freeze to death."

It's a troubling scenario considering the heron population is nesting at this time of the year and thousands of seabirds are migrating near the spill site.

"It could be disastrous for the herons. Couldn't come at a worse time."

An emergency response team was called in to deal with the incident around 5 PM on Wednesday, but the City of Vancouver was not notified until about 6 AM the following day, almost 13 hours later.

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Capt. Roger Girouard, head of the Canadian Coast Guard western region, said a communication review would now be conducted. "Certainly not our intent to leave the city in the blind." The material, he said, is being treated as a bunker fuel or raw crude in a "worst-case scenario" fashion until the test results come back. According to protocol, the spill falls under the federal government's jurisdiction.

The City of Vancouver is asking people to stay away from the spill and the Park Board is urging dog owners to keep their pets out of the water as the cleanup effort continues. Despite those warnings, there were a number of children and dogs playing in the water. When asked why, the general response was they were unaware of the situation. There was not a lot of visible signage warning of potential dangers. Capt. Girouard admits "in absolute sense it could have been better."

Shirley Sample

"It's a warning that if we're not going to be able to deal really well with this one how are we going to deal with a big one in a remote area?" said Falconer.

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