Sunken tug raised from Heiltsuk waters: Now the real work begins

Bella Bella – The Nathan E. Stewart tugboat was finally lifted from the waters of Seaforth Channel on BC’s Central Coast, after the Texas-owned tug had ran aground over a month ago, spilling more than 100,000 litres of marine diesel and 2,240 litres of oil and other lubricants.

“We are relieved the dirty tug is off the seafloor and on its way to being removed from Heiltsuk waters, but this is only the beginning for our community,” says Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett, who is also President of Coastal First Nations. “After the outside world stops paying attention, the Heiltsuk people are left to clean up the mess.”

Chief Slett says Premier Christy Clark’s trip to Britain to attend a ceremony inducting the Great Bear Rainforest into the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy is ill-timed. “Here we are at day 33 of the oil spill trying to manage a disaster in the Great Bear and our coastal waters while our Premier has not contacted us with condolences or an offer of help to our community. We find this hard to understand,” she says.

The tug’s removal is only the beginning of recovery efforts for the Heiltsuk Nation. “We’re feeling very uncertain about our future as we face the hard work of assessing the short and long-term environmental, cultural and economic impacts on our community,” says Chief Slett.

With many government agencies lined up to be compensated for the response effort by the Kirby Corporation, she wants to make sure that governments take care of the short and long-term interests of the Heiltsuk people first. “The Heiltsuk people have lost the most in this disaster,” she says. “Our governments have the responsibility to work with us to ensure our people’s needs are met.”

Chief Slett says the next steps include shoreline assessments, environmental monitoring and cleanup, as well as an independent investigation by the Heiltsuk Nation into the accident. “Our community members are asking what we are going to do now that our harvest areas have been affected by widespread oil contamination,” she adds. “These traditional family harvesting areas have been used by our people for thousands of years – now we are faced with having to travel further south into more exposed and dangerous waters to find our traditional food.”

Feature image: Kyle Artelle/Heiltsuk First Nation

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