Questions raised following fuel spill in Strait of Georgia


WATCH: There’s criticism tonight about how the Department of National Defense dealt with a fuel spill from HMCS Calgary into the Strait of Georgia this past weekend. A local First Nation says they only learned of the incident through the media. An environmental group says the response highlights how spill response should have a third party helping oversee it. Kendall Hanson has the latest.

It was a pristine day on the Georgia Strait Monday but the beauty masked concerns along the shores.

On Saturday morning, there was a 30,000-litre spill of fuel from a Canadian navy ship in the shipping lanes between Nanaimo and Parksville.

“You think ‘Oh my goodness! How is it going to affect the wildlife, the animals, the fish, everything?'” said Lantzville resident Erin Baxter.

The spill from HMCS Calgary happened while crews were transferring the fuel internally on board.

The Navy says human error was likely a factor. They, along with other federal agencies, have since been conducting searches from the air and water for the spill.

It’s believed the fuel, which is similar to kerosene, would have evaporated into the air.

“And to date, we’ve found no indications of the spill and we will continue to conduct surveillance operations going forward,” said Cmdr. Jeff Zwick of the Royal Canadian Navy on Sunday.

Still, the spill response is raising questions including from a local First Nation.

The Nanoose First Nation is right across the bay from a Canadian and American Navy base.

Considering their proximity, they feel they should be told about fuel spills immediately, they were not.

“Through reconciliation and respect, there needs to be direct communication from government to government,” said band councillor Tom Bob. “Their government to our government. That really needs to happen and not days later after we’ve heard about it through the media.”

The First Nation is concerned about how the spill will affect the environment with an abundance of shellfish along the beaches here.

An environmental group mandated to protect Georgia Strait also says the spill response lays bare a bigger problem.

“One of the challenges of the current oil spill response regime is that we don’t have community involvement, third-party involvement to kind of give us that sense and confidence that we’re not being told what we want to hear but we’re actually being told what happened,” said Christianne Wilhelmson of Georgia Strait Alliance.

The Navy says it has four ships in the water on Monday with either a coast guard or B.C. representative on board and it’s serious about the stewardship of oceans, lakes and waters. It says it also strives to be open and transparent and that’s why it notified the public in all ways possible.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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