American tanker traffic highlights safety gaps along BC coast

Burnaby – As crews struggle to contain oil and diesel spilled by a tug that sank on a reef in Heiltsuk First Nation territory, another tug called the “Dale R. Lindsey” is quietly on its way to Alaska via the BC coast.

Vessel tracking information shows the boat making its way past Malcolm Island, pushing a 28,500-barrel tanker barge.

Under new rules announced by Canada’s Pacific Pilotage Authority, tanker barges are not allowed to transit the inside passage after Vancouver Island, instead hugging the outer coast through Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Strait.

With the recent spill near Bella Bella serving as a disastrous precedent, Coastal First Nations and environmental groups are ramping up efforts to ensure a legislated ban on oil tanker traffic along the fragile and indispensable BC North Coast.

“At the very least the federal government should put a halt to American tanker barges until we have effective oil spill response,” said Kia Nagata, Communications Director at the Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative. “Instead they’re sending another one through while cleanup crews are tied up in Bella Bella. After 20 days we’re still trying to clean up a tugboat’s worth of diesel. Forget about full-size oil tankers, we need to rethink safety measures for existing barges and ship traffic.”

Leaders from First Nations throughout the BC North and Central Coast, and Haida Gwaii, have been arguing for such a ban for years, in order to prevent these kinds of spills, which are extraordinarily destructive for local ecosystems and economies.

“It’s clear what the best emergency spill plan for B.C.’s north coast should be,” wrote Kelly Russ, Board Chair of Coast First Nations, in a recent article co-authored with representatives from the Haida Nation. “Canada must deliver on its promise to ban oil tanker traffic and give First Nations a full decision-making role in management decisions about shipping traffic in our territorial waters.”

Featured image from the Heiltsuk First Nation.

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