Tanker barge incident near Bella Bella shows federal tanker ban long overdue on BC’s North Coast

OTTAWA – An American tug, the Nathan E. Stewart, pushing an empty fuel barge along BC’s Central Coast ran aground and sank Thursday morning causing 200,000 litres of diesel to leak into critical and sensitive areas. If the tanker barge had been full, the damage would have been much worse, with Skeena—Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen calling it a “least-worst-case scenario.”

“British Columbians are waking up today, imagining if this had been a fully loaded supertanker, and thinking about the devastation it could have done to fishing resources, First Nations communities, and our environment,” Cullen said. “They’re wondering why their prime minister hasn’t yet acted on his solemn promise to protect our coast.”

Cullen says spill responses times and current DFO regulations around fuel shipping along BC’s coast are woefully inadequate. “While fuel was already washing up on the beaches, local residents were told it would be nearly a full 24 hours before crews from Western Canada Marine Response would be on-site. That’s not ‘world class’ – that’s simply unacceptable.”

Cullen also noted that the company appeared to be exploiting a loophole in DFO’s regulations, loading the vessel with petroleum products to just below its regulated cap of 10,000 tonnes. That allowed them to obtain a special waiver from DFO to absolve them of normal requirements to have a local pilot on board while travelling through British Columbia’s waters.

In November 2015, the Trudeau Liberals promised to implement a moratorium on tankers for BC’s North Coast. The Prime Minister even included the commitment in his mandate letter to the Minister of Transport. But records show the Liberals have been lobbied by Enbridge 77 times since the 2015 election, and recently federal officials have gone silent.

“This should be the Liberals’ final wake-up call,” said Cullen. “It’s time for this government to come through on their promise made to British Columbians. It’s time for a legislated, permanent crude oil tanker ban on BC’s North Coast.”