Western Canada Marine Response Corporation’s (WCMRC) newest oil response vessel is temporarily being docked at Ogden Point before being stationed in Beecher Bay.
The 244-foot boat, the largest spill response vessel in Canada, is being brought in to help fill a gap in oil spill response supports in the area.
“Previously, in those shipping lanes, we had up to a 72-hour response window,” said Michael Lowry with WCMRC. “Our new commitment is a maximum six-hour response in those shipping lanes.”
Lowry said this is also the last piece in the puzzle of their partnership with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
WCMRC is working with Trans Mountain to provide safety supports for the transportation of oil over the Salish Sea.
The pipeline project has been met with controversy and protests over the last few years.
Chief Russ Chipps of Beecher Bay said those in his community, including its ocean research team, were politically opposed to the pipeline project at first, adding they didn’t understand its place on the ocean.
He added that the community knew it needed better oil spill response, so Beecher Bay partnered with WCMRC and KOTUG Canada Inc., the vessel operator, to provide the berthing facility for the boat.
Chipps said this allows the community to be a part of the process and provides the companies with local knowledge to protect the water.
“It’s better to be those fins in the water as opposed to just a voice,” he said.
The response vessel coming to Beecher Bay has also opened job opportunities, with two community members already working as deckhands on board.
“Any local members of the community that we can get involved as WCMRC, KOTUG and the industry as a whole, they bring a lot of value to the industry,” Kyle Hujdic, base operations manager at WCMRC Beecher Base, said.
The vessel and response team will not just report to Trans Mountain, WCMRC said the expansion of its capacity and requirement to have more equipment was mandated by the project.
“That’s what paid for the expansion,” Hujdic said. “Once we have completed the expansion, we roll back into the regime, and all of the assets are available for any incident on the West Coast.”
The vessel was originally designed to service offshore oil platforms and needed to be outfitted with spill response equipment.
KOTUG wouldn’t disclose how much it cost to purchase the boat, but WCMRC said it spent about $6 million on equipment and $400,000 on installation costs.
Serguei Koutaitsev, KOTUG’s chief officer on board, said one of the big projects was reconfiguring the oil tanks on board.
“The tanks were there, we do have the capabilities so all the pumping and piping is available, so it was just a relatively simple reconfiguration of our existing processes and existing capacity,” Koutaitsev explained.
The vessel is not only equipped to respond to oil spills but can also hold and transport one million litres of oil gathered.
Hujdic said the boat can also go farther than other vessels in WCMRC’s fleet and stay longer, making it a great support vessel for other operations.
The boat will be docked in Ogden Point until it’s stationed in Beecher Bay starting in early 2024.