Emergencies and spill response

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s primary purpose is to facilitate Canadian trade in a sustainable way and with regard for communities. As such, we are not the lead agency when it comes to emergencies, but we do provide assistance as we can. Usually this takes the form of working with first responders and other agencies, providing information on a situation through our 24/7 operations centre, our security cameras, our patrol boats and even our drone.

Municipal first responders such as police and firefighters generally manage emergencies that occur on federal port lands. An example of this system in action was a chemical reaction at the Centerm container terminal in Burrard Inlet in early 2015. In that instance, the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services was in charge, assisted by many other agencies as well as the port authority.

The Canada Shipping Act (2001) is Transport Canada’s regulatory framework surrounding marine pollution and its enforcement. In the case of a report of pollution in the water, including oil or fuel spills, Canada operates under the National Spill Response Protocol, which specifies that the Canadian Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring the cleanup of ship sourced spills of oil and other pollutants.

As per a 2009 letter of understanding, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority can be called upon by the Coast Guard to conduct an initial inspection in response to a pollution report in our federal jurisdiction. Practically speaking, this works well given we have patrol boats that are available for quick response.

About three or four reports of pollution on the water are received every day. Our patrol officers investigate each one and the vast majority prove to be of little concern.

For spills that are identified as “recoverable”, meaning there is enough of a substance that can and should be cleaned up, the Canadian Coast Guard will take charge and, if necessary, set up a Unified Command response structure to coordinate the cleanup.

On the west coast, the Canadian Coast Guard contracts spill clean up to Western Canada Marine Response Corporation. This is also the agency that ships or terminal operators are required to call if they discover they have been the source of a spill.

On April 8, 2015, a grain cargo ship accidentally and unknowingly discharged 2,700 litres (about three cubic metres or 15 barrels) of bunker fuel into English Bay in Vancouver, B.C. While the spill was ultimately cleaned up effectively, questions were raised about the response time and communication effectiveness.

In 2013, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, industry and others submitted recommendations to the national Tanker Safety Panel that, among other things, called for the Canadian Coast Guard to be fully resourced so it could effectively respond to spills on our coasts. We continue to call on the federal government to follow through on the panel’s recommendations.

Duncan Wilson
Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility
Vancouver Fraser Port Authority