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Hartley Bay reports large oil spill in Grenville Channel

Photos from part of the oil spill spotted by members of the Gitgaat Nation of Hartley Bay - Contributed
Photos from part of the oil spill spotted by members of the Gitgaat Nation of Hartley Bay
— image credit: Contributed

The Gitga’at Nation of Hartley Bay is reporting an oil spill, between two and five miles long and 200 feet wide inside the Grenville Channel, not far from the proposed tanker route for the Enbridge Gateway pipeline.

The spill was spotted by a commercial pilot and reported to the Gitga’at Nation and the Canadian Coast Guard yesterday evening.

A Coast Guard landing craft from Prince Rupert is on its way to the spill, and expected to arrive by 12pm. The Gitga’at are sending their own Guardians to take samples and have chartered a plane to take aerial photos of the spill.

“If this spill is as big as the pilots are reporting, then we’re looking at serious environmental impacts, including threats to our traditional shellfish harvesting areas,” says Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at Nation.

“We need an immediate and full clean-up response from the federal government ASAP.”

Heavy oil, known as “bunker c” is thought to be upwelling from the USAT Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski, a U.S. army transport ship that sank in 1946 with 700 tonnes of bunker fuel on board. The Canadian government has been saying it would remove the oil and munitions from the ship since 2006, but with no results.

“Right now we’re focused on getting a handle on the size of the spill and the clean-up that’s required,” says Clifton.

“But this incident definitely raises questions about the federal government’s ability to guard against oil spills and to honour its clean-up obligations. As a result, our nation has serious concerns about any proposal to have tankers travel through our coastal waters, including the Enbridge proposal.”

The spill is just the latest in a series of spills of bunker oil and diesel coming from the Zalinski and the BC Ferry Queen of the North, which sank in 2006. Despite government assurances of clean-up, both wreckages continue to leak fuel, fouling the marine environment, and heightening the fear of future oil spills.

The Gitga’at depend on the ocean for 40% of their traditional diet.

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