Government’s handling of sunken ship oil ‘inspires little confidence’
TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – The Gitga’at First Nation on Friday said an announcement that the federal government would pump fuel from a sunken American munitions ship inspired little confidence in the government’s ability to respond to oil spills and protect the coast.
The USAT Brigadier General MG Zalinski sank inside Gitga’at territorial waters in 1946, carrying at least twelve 500 lb bombs, large amounts of .30 and .50 calibre ammunition and at least 700 t of bunker oil. The ship began leaking oil in 2003 and, in 2006, the federal government promised to clean up onboard fuel and munitions.
“Removing this bunker oil is long overdue, but it is not a full cleanup and it should not be used as a public relations exercise for the Conservative government’s push to bring Enbridge’s oil tankers to British Columbia’s coastal waters. Where were they ten years ago when our community requested a cleanup?” Gitga’at First Nation chief councillor Arnold Clifton asked in a statement.
The Gitga’at said a true cleanup would include the toxic munitions onboard the ship, which have never been fully assessed, as well as consultation with the community to ensure that environmental and human health impacts were addressed, including bringing in the Gitga’at’s own expertise – not just that of the Fisheries and Oceans Department – to ensure any risk assessment was consistent with the First Nation’s own marine use plan.
“This has been a slow-motion oil spill in our backyard for ten years. We are hopeful the federal government will follow through on [its] announced plan. However, the ten-year response time and the limited scope of cleanup, gives our nation zero confidence that the government is capable of handling Enbridge’s proposed oil tanker traffic in our coastal waters,” Clifton said.
The Gitga’at is concerned that the potential for toxic leaks from the onboard munitions and their potential impact on marine life and shellfish has never been dealt with. The First Nation contended that many of those same resources were already experiencing hydrocarbon pollution from the nearby Queen of the North ferry, which sank in 2006, as well as the Zalinski.
They are worried that there may be even more toxic, unreported munitions on board.
The Gitga’at First Nation is one of nine coastal First Nations in British Columbia that has formally banned oil sands oil tankers from their lands and waters, based on their ancestral laws, rights and responsibilities. The nation recently instructed Enbridge to leave its territory after the company began project work without adequate prior notice or approval.