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Murky waters: Bunker fuel spill at English Bay toxic, City warns people not to touch

bunker fuel spill, English Bay,
"I swim here!" said Birgitte Brickenden, concerned English Bay resident, by oil spill site. Photo by Danny Kresnyak

The City of Vancouver has confirmed a bunker fuel leak in English Bay and warned people not to touch the toxic slime washed up on shore.

Transport Canada said the source remains unknown, but 2600 feet of boom have been laid out around a Cyprus grain ship called Marathassa. Transport Canada would not confirm this as the source but said the owners of the suspect craft are cooperating fully. Marathassa arrived in Vancouver from Korea on April 6 and was loaded with grain near anchorage 12 when the spill was first reported. 

An oily sheen on English Bay was reported to Port Metro Vancouver at 5 p.m. yesterday. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the spill has been contained but could not provide a timeline for clean-up, which is a partnered effort between the Coast Guard and West Coast Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC).

English Bay fuel spill photo by Zack Embree

"This is described as a small spill in the best weather conditions you can get in Vancouver. The fact [is] that this reached beaches, and that there seems to have been some confusion in the spill response between the Port and the Coast Guard, so this is very concerning," said Sven Biggs, a spokesperson for ForestEthics, an environmental advocacy group.

One question lingering on environmental advocates' minds is the possible approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. Biggs noted that if Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline is approved, Vancouver does not appear prepared for the resulting five-fold tanker traffic increase. He called the spill a "dry run" and that effects could be more serious if an oil tanker were to spill in the area, as bitumen has been shown to sink underwater.
Meanwhile, area residents said they were devastated by news of the spill. 

“I swim here,” said Birgitte Brickenden, a concerned long time English Bay resident, as she watched the oil-slicked waves hit rocks on shore.

Other witnesses have taken to social media to report toxic globs of oil washing up at Sunset Beach, False Creek and Kitsilano.

Bunker fuel is known to not only be highly toxic to marine life but to also have serious long-term effects for marine eco-systems.

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is closely monitoring developments around the overnight spill, a press release said. "The immediate concern is whether the spill will affect aquatic species that live at or around the water’s surface, in the water column, or in the sediments. Vancouver Aquarium has offered its assistance with the monitoring and evaluation, and is preparing a rapid response team to ensure the protection of any fish, seabirds and/or marine mammals that might be at risk from this toxic spill."

Julia Ren, a spokesperson for Port Metro Vancouver, told the Vancouver Observer that the polluter at this point is unidentified. The Canadian Marine Liability act allocates a $1.37 billion dollar fund to pay for marine catastrophes. However, because the spill only happened yesterday, the responsibility for clean-up costs has yet to be confirmed. 

There is no estimate to the amount of fuel leaked into English Bay. Officials from Department of Fisheries and Oceans refused questions at a conference call this morning but said they will update media this afternoon.

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