News

Nanaimo Port Authority tracks slick

Chris Dumas, left, and Dan Vircik of the Nanaimo Port Authority patrol division search around downtown docks in an attempt to find the source of oil that spread a sheen over much of the Nanaimo Boat Basin Thursday morning. Winds combined with tidal currents to disperse the slick. - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Chris Dumas, left, and Dan Vircik of the Nanaimo Port Authority patrol division search around downtown docks in an attempt to find the source of oil that spread a sheen over much of the Nanaimo Boat Basin Thursday morning. Winds combined with tidal currents to disperse the slick.
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

A sheen of oil spread across the waters of Nanaimo's inner harbour had port authority personnel and a Canadian Coast Guard pollution surveillance plane out trying to track down its source.

The oil appeared Thursday morning and eventually dispersed on the winds and tide with its source remaining a mystery.

Oil appearing in Nanaimo Harbour is unfortunately not uncommon, said Edward Dahlgren, Nanaimo Port Authority manager of marine operations and harbour master.

Oil can appear on the water surface any time there is a weather change that can shift the angle a boat sits on the water, such as the recent snowfall, he said.

"The snow settles on the deck and causes the boat to list to one side, which triggers the bilge pump," Dahlgren said. "There might be oil or dripping hydraulic fluid, which is automatically pumped out."

Other sources include storm drains that empty into Nanaimo Harbour and carry oil that gets washed from roads and other surfaces after a heavy rain. Sometimes old containers, discarded decades ago and still sitting on the sea bottom, can begin to leak.

Every report of a spill is taken seriously and checked carefully to be sure what might appear to be a minor spill is not the start of something more serious, Dahlgren said.

About 30 per cent of spill sources can be tracked down and dealt with quickly.

"We are trying to change peoples' practices through education and we're actively pursuing any time we see a spill," he said.

Dahlgren said as little as 250 ml of gasoline can create a sheen covering more that 1,000 square metres. He judged Thursday's spill at less than 40 litres, which is categorized as minor.

A coast guard pollution surveillance plane is often called in to help track down spill sources.

"We have very good relationships with the coast guard, so one of the things that we've been able to arrange is for them to make frequent overflights and any time we put in a report they do an overflight and try to help us," Dahlgren said.

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