AM 730, April 9, 2015 – UPDATE: Public told to avoid toxic oil spill in English Bay, former Kits Coast Guard commander

Crews are dealing with a heavy oil spill from a cargo ship in English Bay.

The City of Vancouver first said it’s bunker fuel and toxic, but now says it’s not clear. Either way, boaters and beachgoers are warned not to touch it.

The spill was first spotted by boaters yesterday around 5 p.m. and reported to the Coast Guard.

City Manager Penny Ballem says the city was not notified until six this morning, but her deputy city manager is now on a fire boat.

She says the spill falls under federal jurisdiction, but: ‘We need to be an integrated part of any response and our first responders are actually contracted by the Port — both fire and police, to actually provide services on the water.

“We have no responsibility and we do not have resources for clean-up because that is their jurisdiction and they’re funded to actually do that.”

The Coast Guard, police and the West Coast Marine Response Corporation are on the scene.

Vancouver fire officials say a 2,600-foot boom around the leaking vessel had recovered one tonne of oil as of 8:45 a.m.

CKNW traffic reporter Elaine Scollan describes the scene from the air.

“The actual bunker fuel may be contained but they’ve got a very, very small boom set up, containment boom right now.  And that’s sort of sitting in the middle of the freighters in the middle of English Bay.  But the sheen from this bunker fuel stretches from those freighters in the middle of the bay all the way to False Creek and into False Creek.”

“Now if you’re looking north/south, it goes from basically where the Kits Pool is on the south side of the bay all the way across the entrance to False Creek, along Sunset Beach, all the way along Stanley Park until around Second Beach.  It’s not a solid sheen but there are enormous swaths of this bunker fuel on English Bay.  It’s going to be an enormous cleanup for these guys.”

We still don’t know how big the spill is, how much fuel has spilled, how long the clean-up will take, or how it happened

Ben West, executive director of Tanker-Free BC, says the spill is a reminder of the potential “nightmare scenario.”

“It may actually be lucky that this is only bunker fuel and not bitumen. If this were a spill of tar sands oil and this much time had passed without it being contained it likely would be game over for any kind of clean up.”

Former commander of the former Kitsilano Coast Guard base, Fred Moxey calls spill an example of why the base should have remained open.

“The closing of the Kitsilano station has been an absolute disaster as far as I am concerned. Now we have this spill right out of the front door of the station. Had we had a crew at that station, we would have been on scene in several minutes in a fast response boat. We would have been able to do an assessment.”

He says the Kits base had a special pollution response boat, thousands of feet of oil booms, and the ability to test the material.

Passersby admit they’re worried about having so many tankers resting so close to the beach

“Hopefully, it won’t wash ashore.  It’s not very good,” says one man. “Some of those ships are not very well-maintained. That could be a problem.”

Another woman says she no longer feels comfortable cooling off in the water after playing volleyball because the bay is so polluted.

Patricia Thomson with the Stanley Park Ecology Society says a bird called the Barrow’s Goldeneye was spotted with what looked like oil on it, in an area the spill hadn’t reached yet, but birds move around.

“It’s a wildlife ecologist who had noted that. The bird was far enough offshore that it can’t be reached directly, but it’s not showing any distress at the moment.”

Thomson says park board staff are keeping an eye on it. Anyone who notices an animal in distress or deceased can call the city at 311.

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