All eyes help spot spills

NANAIMO – Port authority works with industry, municipal partners to plan for environmental disasters.

  • Apr. 14, 2015 3:00 p.m.

Nanaimo Port Authority relies on the eyes of everyone on the water to help avoid an oil spill like the one in English Bay in Vancouver last week.

Rodney Grounds, officer in charge of Nanaimo Port Authority’s patrol division, said his staff and that of crew and passengers on ships, ferries and in the air contribute to monitoring the waters off Nanaimo’s coastline.

“Nanaimo is very unique in the size of the port and the number of observers,” Grounds said. “Everyone on board is a potential observer. We utilize passengers in the air.”

Grounds said the port authority is on the water 24-7 when combining its responsibilities for servicing anchoring ships in addition to inspections.

“Our crews are in our deep sea anchorages for a large part of the day,” Grounds said.

He said the key to any spill response is to “hit it hard and hit it fast.” Once a spill is detected, the port authority responds with a crew to identify the source, board or hail the ship and shut down machinery contributing to the leak. It also deploys booms to trap fuel or deflect fuel from reaching shore.

The port authority belongs to a consortium called the Western Canadian Marine Response Corporation, which responds as needed to oil spills on the B.C. coast and is paid for by user contributions. It takes three hours for the group to respond to an emergency in Nanaimo waters, leaving the port authority to manage the disaster until then.

The last time the consortium attended Nanaimo was last year when a tugboat sank in Northumberland Channel.

If at any point the port authority is overwhelmed with a spill, it can ask the Canadian Coast Guard to assume command of the emergency, said Grounds.

One of the challenges from the English Bay spill was the lack of information dispersed among agencies. Grounds said the port authority works with Nanaimo Fire Rescue communications, which handles the port’s emergency calls and dispatch.

“The links between the city and the port are very strong,” Grounds said. “I don’t think you’d find that issue applied on this side.”

Karen Lindsay, emergency program manager for Fire Rescue, said industry partners share information and plan for emergencies.

“When these things happen, they’re never textbook,” she said.

Mayor Bill McKay said he will meet with the port authority as part of a liaison committee later this week. Questions about Nanaimo’s oil spill preparedness will be discussed, he said.

“People are asking me those questions and I want to have the answers,” McKay said.

Attendees to the Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities conference this weekend passed a motion to investigate the spill in English Bay. McKay said it reinforces what the provincial government and other agencies are asking for.

“We should always look at these things to see what we should do better,” McKay said.