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OIL IN THE WATER: 'I told you so', says ex-harbourmaster

Federal control of harbour would have meant better response, says Bruusgaard Sylvie Paillard spaillard@squamishchief.

Federal control of harbour would have meant better response, says Bruusgaard

Sylvie Paillard

[email protected]

Federal and provincial representatives were positive about the speed with which they responded to a disastrous fuel oil spill into Howe Sound from a ship leaving Squamish Terminals last Friday (Aug. 4)

But former Harbour Master Tom Bruusgaard disagrees. The accident's impact, which saw 29,000 litres of bunker C fuel oil spilled into the water from the Norwegian freighter Westwood Anette, could have been much less severe if the federal government hadn't handed off control of all their secondary harbours - including Squamish - six years ago, and placed the responsibility for emergency response in the hands of vessels' owners, he said.

Bruusgaard added that he protested the decision and warned the District of Squamish that the port needed a locally co-ordinated emergency response program.

"I'm sorry to say, the situation is 'I told you so' and that's too bad," he said. "If this port had continued to be a federal harbour, there would have been an emergency package here. It couldn't have prevented this human mistake, what would have been different is we would have had a plan to deal with it, controlled locally, and equipment here also to deal with it."

Acting Mayor Mike Jenson said he was surprised at the port's lack of emergency equipment.

"I am surprised that Squamish Terminals doesn't have those facilities, but on the other hand it is the ship's responsibility to safeguard anything they may have on board," he said.

Jenson said the port's safety is out of the district's jurisdiction, but council would be lobbying for increased standards.

"With these things, unfortunately, there is a risk associated with having these activities in your backyard," he said. "All we can do is work to lobby the appropriate authorities to increase their standards. For example, this I understand was a single hull ship, not a double hull ship."

The environmental catastrophe occurred when the hull of Norwegian freighter ship Westwood Anette was punctured in two places above the waterline at approximately 3 p.m. as tugboats assisted the ship, which was leaving the industrial port in high winds.The oil gushed out "like a fire hose" for an hour, said Canadian Coast Guard Response Superintendent Don Rodden.

It took over two hours for emergency response crews and equipment to arrive at the port and by Saturday morning (Aug. 5), crews began cleaning up and containing oil on the water, according to Rodden. By Monday, representatives from Environment Canada, Transport Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service and the BC Ministry of Environment were at the site.

"I thought it was a very good response," said Rodden. "Very positive, very successful."

Rodden said the presence of emergency equipment at every port would be as logical as having fire trucks on every street corner.

"[Emergency equipment at Squamish Terminals] would be better," he said. "But it's only two berths, it's their first accident. It's risk management."

He said the vessel's responsibility is to have a contingency plan that consists of a list of emergency phone numbers. Squamish Terminals General Manager Ron Anderson said the port is "out of loop" when it comes to spills of that size, adding that emergency personnel were contacted within minutes of the accident.

"There is a variety of emergency equipment in and around the area, but nothing to cope with the magnitude of this," said Anderson. "Companies like Burrard Clean [the firm brought in to clean the estuary] are set up to be a first response group."

Neither Anderson nor Rodden would comment on how the accident happened, and Jenson said the District of Squamish is not asking questions yet.

"We're dealing with the spilled milk, not why it was spilled," said Jenson. "I will be asking in three weeks why did the accident happen so that it won't happen again."

Anderson cut a holiday short when he'd heard of the incident. He said since he wasn't on the site at the time, he couldn't comment on what happened.

"If a report comes out, we have to wait to see what it has to say," he said.

By Wednesday (Aug. 9), two-thirds of the oil had been contained or removed and a crew of approximately 100 Burrard Clean Operations workers - hired by shipping company Gearbulk, owners of the Westwood Anette - were raking and scrubbing a one-kilometre stretch of oil-covered estuary land as regular cannon blasts kept birds away.

The Westwood Anette is due to be cleared to leave Squamish Terminals port Friday (Aug. 11) once its two holes are patched and the hull is cleaned.

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