A Houston-based company is scheduled to be sentenced after pleading guilty to a diesel spill from a tug boat that ran aground and sank in the fishing grounds of a First Nation on British Columbia’s central coast. The tug boat Nathan E. Stewart is seen in the waters of the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella, B.C., in an October 23, 2016, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk First Nation, April Bencze

A Houston-based company is scheduled to be sentenced after pleading guilty to a diesel spill from a tug boat that ran aground and sank in the fishing grounds of a First Nation on British Columbia’s central coast. The tug boat Nathan E. Stewart is seen in the waters of the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella, B.C., in an October 23, 2016, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk First Nation, April Bencze

UPDATE: U.S. firm fined $2.9M for fuel spill that soiled B.C. First Nation territory

The Nathan E. Stewart spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October 2016

The company responsible for a fuel spill that contaminated the fishing territory of a First Nation on British Columbia’s central coast has been fined $2.9 million but the chief of the Heiltsuk says the sentence is a long way from justice.

Texas-based Kirby Corp. pleaded guilty in May to three separate counts after the tug Nathan E. Stewart ran aground and sank, spilling 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils in October 2016.

The guilty pleas were under the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Pilotage Act for the spill that damaged both fish and birds, and for failing to have a pilot aboard the vessel.

The Transportation Safety Board ruled last May that a crew member missed a planned course change because he fell asleep while alone on watch.

Chief Marilyn Slett said Tuesday the Heiltsuk Nation wanted the company to be banned from its territorial waters until there is proper restitution in accordance with the nation’s traditional laws to respect the land and people who depend on the sea for sustenance and jobs.

Slett, along with elders and youth as well as representatives for Kirby, participated in a sentencing circle during provincial court proceedings held in a gymnasium in Bella Bella before Judge Brent Hoy announced the sentence.

“The effects of the spill have rippled throughout our community,” Slett said in her victim-impact statement. ”Our community was traumatized by the actions of visitors in our territory, and we have collectively grieved and mourned our losses.”

“It was emotional,” she said afterwards. “We’re still feeling the effects of this spill and we’re continuing to try and resume life to see what we can do moving forward to ensure that this doesn’t happen to us again.”

The community still does not have adequate resources to respond to any future incidents, Slett said.

Families can’t fish in Gale Creek and the nation is trying to gain justice through a civil lawsuit against Kirby, Slett said, adding the company has chosen not to do an environmental impact assessment.

“We have a principle that if we take care of the land the land will take care of us,” she said.

Paul Welsh, spokesman for Kirby, declined to comment but issued a statement from the company.

“We sincerely regret this incident and we have amended our operating procedures, training, auditing, promotion protocols and equipment to help reduce the potential for future accidents,” it said.

William Housty, 37, said in his victim-impact statement that he was among the first responders after the spill and joined Slett in serving as an incident commander on behalf of their nation.

“My 27 days in this role were one of the most stressful, hurtful and challenging of my life,” he said, adding his team worked hard to fit into a response system the members knew nothing about and fought to be included with Kirby in assessing a barge that had also sunk.

READ MORE: ‘I fell asleep’ admits second mate in Nathan E. Stewart fuel spill

READ MORE: First Nation sues over tug that spilled 110,000 litres of diesel off B.C. coast

READ MORE: Mate asleep while on watch in B.C. tug incident, TSB report says

“It was from that point on that it was stated that for any and every crew that went anywhere in our territory there had to be a Heiltsuk person on that crew. This caused extreme annoyance to everyone but we forced it to happen,” said Housty, who is chair of the board of directors for the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department.

About 70 per cent of the community is unemployed and about 40 people who relied on the clam fishery through the fall and winter can no longer provide for their families, he said.

The First Nation is seeking funding to implement innovative projects designed to create healthy fish populations elsewhere on its territory, Housty said.

Amid those efforts, the effects of emotional trauma linger among many of the first responders following the spill, he added.

“This incident has caused so much damage to all of us and there is no amount of money in the world that can replace what was lost.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bears are waking up hungry and starting to forage, Conservation Officer Service said on April 9. Prince Residents are advised to keep garbage in sealed containers to lessen bear attraction. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Keep bears wild – they are not teddy bears

Conservation Officer Service warns bears are waking up hungry

Prince Rupert couple Alvin Tait and Loni Martin have postponed their wedding two times due to COVID-19 affecting the marriage rates in Prince Rupert. (Photo: supplied/L.Martin)
No marriages in Prince Rupert in 2021 so far

Weddings down 23.9% in P.R. since COVID-19 with B.C. wedding industry loss at $158 million

Three North Coast organizations are granted funding to promote multiculturalism and support anti-racism, Jennifer Rice MLA announced on April 8. Conrad Elementary School students recognized the first Black Shirt Day on January 15, 2021, to advocate for anti-racism. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
North Coast organizations to benefit from anti-racism funding

$944,000 granted in provincial funding to aid multiculturalism

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed on April 4, according to a statement from police. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police name victim following city’s fourth homicide of 2021

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Most Read