This week has been all about the cleaning up of the foul, stinking fuel oil that escaped from the two gashes in the Westwood Anette at Squamish Terminals last Friday. What it has not been about is why the accident happened in the first place.
Some may find it hard to believe, but as far as oil spills go, according to officials, it could have been far, far worse. The initial amount of bunker C fuel listed as having escaped - around 50 tons - was replaced by the much smaller, almost calming figure of 29,000 litres.
Still, that is enough oil to fill 520 bathtubs or 1,475 large water cooler jugs. Whatever measure you use, disgust is the first feeling that comes, closely followed by a sort of nameless fear that comes with knowing little about how the area and wildlife will be affected.
A small part of the estuary was substantially fouled and it will be a year, maybe five years, before it returns to normal.
Acting Mayor Mike Jenson said on Wednesday (Aug. 9) that he would like to wait a couple of weeks for the cleaners to do their work and ensure that all help needed is given them. Once that is finished, he said, he would certainly like to start asking "why" this catastrophe or near-catastrophe happened.
The Chief would like that, too. If journalists do nothing else, they should always ask "why" - sooner rather than later preferably. Here are a few choice questions that we'd love to publish the answers to in the coming weeks:
Why was there no equipment for larger spills at a terminal port of Squamish's size, even voluntarily?
Was there anything different about the conditions under which the Westwood Anette operated that day?
Why was a ship this size being pulled by smaller tugboats from berth two at the terminal during the windiest part of the day?
Given the apparent wind levels on Aug. 4, were the tugs pulling the ship adequate for the job?
Is there a problem with silt back-up from the estuary at the terminal, and if there is, did it contribute to the accident in any way?
Will the key witnesses - the as-yet unnamed captain of the Norwegian vessel and the B.C. pilot who was required to be on board to guide the ship through the shallow estuary waters that day - be coming back to make some kind of public statement on what happened? Will the owners, Gearbulk, be making a formal statement?
Is the ship being allowed to leave as expected? (It is due to depart on Friday, Aug. 11.) Are the authorities satisfied that investigations into the ship and its safety history will be complete by the time of its departure?
Indeed, will there be some kind of public inquiry that at the very least will allow Squamish citizens, business people and its public servants to voice their concerns, ask questions and suggest ways to ensure that this never happens again?
Finally, when can we reasonably expect to learn of the full financial costs of the accident over the long term, and how can we ensure that the responsible party(ies) remains constant over time in the paying for it? It can take years for bunker C fuel to be cleaned up as it can be blown away as "tar balls" by the wind. It is toxic and it dissipates very slowly in the environment.
There are other questions, but this makes a start.
Formations of Canada Geese have been flying over Squamish all week with oily feathers. Focus Wildlife has finally been brought here by Gearbulk to rescue as many geese and other animal species listed as being affected as is possible. That is good news after it was reported that they baulked at the cost initially.
But we shouldn't be grateful just yet - it's far from over.