Disaster Close To Home

The tourism activities in English Bay were suspended by the spill for at least eleven days.
The tourism activities in English Bay were suspended by the spill for at least eleven days.

All too often whenever we hear of a disaster, it’s miles away. All too often it seems it’s at the other end of the world. However something happened just two months ago that hit close to home.

Wednesday April 8, 2015 was supposed to be like any other day including around English Bay: a beach located close to downtown Vancouver. Unfortunately bad news struck. A freighter called the Marathassa accidentally spilled 2700 litres of bunker oil into the waters of the Georgia Strait near the English Bay beaches. The biggest shock is that the federal government authorities did not alert the public about this for 12 hours.

Those enjoying leisure activity around the waters could have been affected. This oil is harmful if inhaled, can cause fertility or organ damage and could cause cancer. The oil would wash up on surrounding beaches creating a slick six to eight inches thick. At least twenty seabirds were affected by the spill. When news hit that day, the whole city was in shock. Especially since English Bay has been very popular with tourists and residents for leisure.  For at least, ten days, the beach was closed off to the public warning them not to engage in any activities in the water.

No doubt that this was huge news that week. Even bigger was the shock that this incident wasn’t alerted to the public by the federal government until 12 hours after it happened. Already people were outraged. Even the decision to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard base two years ago was to blame. Both the municipal and provincial governments through Gregor Robertson and Christy Clark, environmental scientists and an international shipping expert criticized the federal government’s lack of immediate response. However Roger Girouard, Assistant Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, defended it and said: “You don’t contain 80 per cent of a spill inside 36 hours and call that inadequate. I will not accept that definition of my team in the ops centre or on the water. Look at the normal standards throughout the world and what we achieved over the last couple of days, it was exceptional.” Okay, it’s exceptional in terms of containment but notifying the city 12 hours later exceptional? Even our national Coast Guard leaders as Coast Guard Commisioner Jody Thomas described the response as ‘exceptional.’ Makes you question our current Coast Guard heads.

Most of the oil washed up on other shores but the dirty foam was enough of a reminder of what occurred three days earlier.
Most of the oil washed up on other shores but the dirty foam was enough of a reminder of what occurred three days earlier.

On Saturday the 11th just three days after the incident happened, I walked English Bay to see for myself any noticeable aftermath. I didn’t get anything too tragic or too graphic-looking. What I did get was enough to give me quite a picture. Freighters were all along the bay. Business as usual in Canada’s busiest ports. Recreation as usual but only as far as people sailing recreational ships. People wanting to do recreation on the beach were warned not to do so by signs. The beaches of English Bay were lifeless except for a few people that just want to visit. I didn’t notice any blotches of oil or sludge washing up on the ricks at the beach. News reports at the time said that they’ve cleaned up over 95% of the spill. However I did notice something unpleasant: foam. Foam had just washed up and right on top you can see dirt of a black or grey dinge. An ugly reminder of what happened. I was looking around to see any birds or other animals around the beach. I didn’t find any. Actually a map of the spill would show that more areas around the coasts of West Vancouver or Stanley Park would be hit bigger.

It’s going to be hard to try and calculate the whole damage of what happened. There were no fatalities and no record of illnesses caused by the spill. As for environmental damage and its effect on wildlife, that also remains unanswered. Even though there hasn’t been too much reported two weeks after the spill, two months is still not enough time to tell the whole story. In fact it was later reported on April 29th that a slick 80 metres long and six to eight inches thick made its way the Sandy Cove in West Vancouver: the other side of the shore. English Bay was not the only area hit. New Brighton Park, ten miles away from the spill, was even hit.This will really affect the Burrard Inlet.

I don’t even know if the crew of the MV Marathassa have been arrested. They should be and they should go on trial for this, more than anyone else. Canada’s laws ensure that polluters are held financially liable, and the operators of the MV Marathassa have agreed to pay for clean up and to appear in future legal proceedings that could lead to fines. Further news revealed this was actually the Marathassa’s maiden voyage.

Leisure activity did eventually return to English Bay. This photo taken on Victoria Day (May 18th).
Leisure activity did eventually return to English Bay. This photo taken on Victoria Day (May 18th).

I did return to English Bay just two weeks ago. The signs are no longer there. They were taken down after April 19th. The shores no longer have that dirty foam. There wasn’t too huge of a turnout at the coast that sunny Monday which happened to be a national holiday: Victoria Day. There was a mother who took her toddler child to the coast. That was something you couldn’t do over a month earlier. I saw a bird flying over the coast and even walking close to the shoreline. Seeing that made me hope the water’s safe. I don’t know how long it will be until English Bay will become swimmable again.

The oil spill isn’t that colossal of a disaster as say recent disasters like the earthquakes in Nepal or even the train crash in Philadelphia. It was chicken feed compared to legendary spills like the 210 million liters from BP off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 or even all that spilled from the Exxon Valdez disaster. Nevertheless it did hit close to home and it’s going to affect a lot of attitudes in the city towards oil.


Mackin, Bob. “Feds On The Offensive Over English Bay Fuel Spill” Vancouver Courier. 10 April 2015<http://www.vancourier.com/news/feds-on-the-offensive-over-english-bay-fuel-spill-1.1820657>

WIKIPEDIA: 2015 English Bay. Wikipedia.com. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Bay_%28Vancouver%29>

Canadian Press. “The MV Marathassa given the all clear to return to normal operations” News 1130. 25 April 2015<http://www.news1130.com/2015/04/25/the-mv-marathassa-given-the-all-clear-to-return-to-normal-operations/>

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