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Russian ship crisis near Haida Gwaii raises big questions about oil and LNG tankers

 "We need to be able to respond to existing marine traffic transiting through Haida waters," said Haida citizenValine Crist, who says emergency response systems are ill-prepared to deal with oil and LNG tankers planned for the area.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified Valine Crist as a member of the Haida Council. This has been updated to Haida citizen.

Valine Crist, a Haida Gwaii resident, says the current "crisis situation" with the Russian ship is bringing up crucial questions about major projects planned for northern B.C.

The ship, which is carrying 500 metric tonnes of bunker fuel and 60 metric tonnes of diesel, and lost power and went adrift near Haida Gwaii.

The incident has raised alarm bells for Crist, who has strongly opposed the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which could bring 225 oil tankers to the northern coast. Meanwhile, liquified natural gas (LNG) projects could bring 500 LNG carriers to the area annually.

"With a ship that's adrift right now with almost 500 tonnes of bunker fuel, what would a cleanup look like? LNG tankers are also powered by bunker fuel. If an LNG carrier encountered an incident, and -- God forbid -- it loses control, we would be in a similar situation, but on a much bigger scale."

Crist said she was deeply concerned about the lack of emergency preparation on the island. 

 Environment Canada has issued a storm warning for much of the northern coast, including the area around Haida Gwaii. Winds that have been blowing from the southwest are expected to change direction tonight and blow directly from the west, which would drive the tanker toward the coast. 

According to authorities, the tug boat -- the only vessel capable of towing the cargo ship -- won't be on site until early tomorrow morning.

"We currently don't have an emergency response centre on the island and this has become a stark wakeup call that we really need one. We need to be able to respond to existing marine traffic transiting through Haida waters," she said.

"A 'world class' marine tanker plan doesn't give us any assurance, especially when we can't respond to an incident like this carrier ship. Especially on the Northern Gateway issue, there is nothing that provincial and federal government can do that can reassure us that the coast will be safe, because accidents happen."

Haida Gwaii is an area with significant humpback and fin whale habitat, and a local population that depends on marine wildlife as part of the regional economy. Crist said keeping a clean coast was "absolutely" important for communities living on the northern B.C. coast.  

"We gather a lot of food from the ocean. [Tourism] is one of Haida Gwaii's focuses -- we're working to develop a sustainable eco and cultural tourism economy."


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