An aerial photo shows containment boom around the tug Nathan E. Stewart broken apart by high waves and wind on Oct. 22.

Haida Nation calls for shipping changes after diesel spill near Bella Bella

The Haida Nation wants Ottawa to quit allowing vessels like the tug that recently ran ground near Bella Bella to travel the Inside Passage.

The Haida Nation wants Ottawa to quit allowing vessels like the tug that recently ran ground near Bella Bella to travel the Inside Passage.

Around 1 a.m. on Oct. 13, the tug Nathan E. Stewart struck a reef at the mouth of Seaforth Channel, about 20 kilometres west of Bella Bella. At the time, the tug was carrying nearly 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and almost 3,000 gallons of hydraulic, lube, and gear oils, as well as dirty bilge.

Fortunately, the Alaska fuel barge it was pushing was empty.

But the Heiltsuk Nation says diesel spilled from the tug has already covered the most important clam beds in its territory. Local clam fisheries were due to open in the coming weeks.

As of Tuesday afternoon, all the tanks in the half-sunken tug had been pumped out, and about 29,000 gallons of diesel-water mixture were recovered from the scene.

Another 6,000 gallons of diesel were pumped out of the tug before it sank.

High tides and storms delayed the clean-up last weekend, forcing crews on smaller boats to stand down for hours.

At one point, the high waves broke all but the last ring of containment boom around the tug.

“The spill at Qvuqvai near Waglisla (Bella Bella) illustrates what coastal nations have been saying for years,” said Haida Nation President Peter Lantin, kil tlaats ‘gaa, in an Oct. 19 press release.

“There is no technology or response available today that can begin to deal with the impact of oil, diesel, or other petroleum products spilling into the waters and onto shorelines.”

Local MP Nathan Cullen made similar remarks in the House of Commons last week.

“This is not a world-class spill response,” said Cullen, noting that it took nearly 24 hours for dedicated spill-response vessels to arrive from Prince Rupert.

“This is a betrayal and a dereliction of duty.”

Aside from revoking the tickets that allow the Nathan E. Stewart and similar vessels in the Inside Passage, the Council of the Haida Nation also called on the federal government to ensure large oil vessels respect the voluntary exclusion zone that keeps any oil tankers or barges that serve Alaska well away from the B.C. coast.

The CHN also called for substantial funding and technical resources in first-responding communities, such as Bella Bella, which had local people on scene long before dedicated clean-up vessels arrived.

The federal government has already revoked a waiver allowing Kirby Offshore Marine, the U.S. owners of the Nathan E. Stewart, to run vessels through the Inside Passage without a local pilot.

Coordinated by the Canadian Coast Guard, the clean-up around the submerged tug also involves the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, which was contracted by Kirby Offshore Marine, as well as Environment Canada and B.C.’s Ministry of the Environment. Kirby Offshore Marine has also paid $250,000 to the Heiltsuk Nation for its clean-up efforts so far.

No cause for the Oct. 13 sinking has been identified yet, but Transport Canada is investigating.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, diesel is completely degraded by naturally occurring microbes in one or two months, but it is also one of the most acutely toxic oils for marine plants and animals that come in contact with it.

In March of 2007, a U.S.-owned tug ran aground and leaked diesel about 16 kilometres south of Bella Bella just as herring were spawning. A year earlier, the Queen of the North ferry sank near Hartley Bay while carrying nearly 39,000 gallons of diesel.