Oil Spill Response: Canadian Coast Guard “Gone Fishing”

CAUGHT ON VIDEO: Lead federal agency for oil spill response sends fishing party instead of clean-up crew; Gitga’at Nation accuses federal government of mishandling oil spill response in the Great Bear Rainforest.

HARTLEY BAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA (May 3, 2012) - The leadership of the Gitga’at Nation held an emergency meeting this afternoon to discuss what they see as a failure of the federal government to respond appropriately to an unfolding maritime oil spill in the Great Bear Rainforest. The spill is originating from the Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski, a U.S. army ship that sank in 1946 with 700 tonnes of bunker fuel on board.

The Gitga’at say the government is underestimating the size of the spill and they are demanding a full clean-up of the wreckage.

“We sent our own people to sample for oil yesterday, and when they got there, they found the Coast Guard fishing,” says Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at Nation. “It’s disgraceful. How can Canadians have any confidence in this government’s ability to deal with an oil spill if they don’t take it seriously?”

The oil spill, which varies in appearance depending on the tides, was recently reported by a commercial pilot as reaching a size between two and five miles long and 200 feet wide inside the Grenville Channel. The Gitga’at have taken their own photos and video of the spill, including an aerial photo showing concentrated plumes of upwelling oil.

“We were promised this would be cleaned-up by 2010,” says Clifton. “Two years later nothing has happened and it’s only getting worse. We’ve had enough excuses. It’s time for action. Our people depend on a healthy ocean for their livelihood.

In addition to the Zalinsky, the BC ferry Queen of the North is also leaking diesel fuel just south of the Grenville channel. The ferry sank in 2006 with 220,000 litres of diesel fuel and 23,000 litres of lubricating oil on board. The federal government has also been promising to remove the fuel on board that wreckage since 2006, but with no results.

“The last time we took a fuel sample from the Queen of the North and sent it to the Coast Guard, they yelled at us and asked us why we were taking samples,” says Marven Robinson, a Councillor with the Hartley Bay Band Council. “We’re taking our own samples because the federal government isn’t doing its job.”

The Gitga'at, who were the first responders to the Queen of the North sinking, say the federal government's failure to manage these spills has deepened their opposition to any plan to have oil tankers travel through their territorial waters. The proposed Enbridge pipeline would bring 225 oil tankers per year through Gitga'at territory.

Contact Information: Andrew Frank Media Relations 604-367-2112