A Houston-based company was 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.

FRENCH CONNECTION: Can we cope with disaster?

Many of the so-called natural events recently have had human help

Man-made and natural catastrophes are much in the news these days and there are reasons to believe many of the so-called natural events have had human help.

Humans were to blame when a US tugboat sunk near Bella Bella in October 2016. Some 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy oils ended up in a prime sea food area.

The Transportation Safety Board found it happened because a crew member fell asleep while alone on watch. The tug’s Texas based -owners were fined over $2.9 million on charges 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. Some serious weaknesses in Canada’s emergency response measures were evident within hours of the grounding.

Read More: B.C. First Nation’s group using ads in Texas targeting company for fuel spill

The Heiltsuk Nation still can’t harvest the 25 food species, including black cod, clams, cockels, crab, halibut, herring and kelp, ling cod, rock cod, and salmon that were the mainstay of the village economy. The fine money doesn’t come close to compensating for the villager’s current and potential loss of income, never mind dealing with the environmental impacts.

So what has this to do with Cariboo residents? Well, it will explain why some of us are so leery of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The Bella Bella incident was a tiny diesel spill, not the heavy bitumen to be hauled by large tankers, and it showed how ill-prepared Canada is to cope spills and their consequences.

Here at home there is the aftermath of the Chilcotin floods to deal with. Some of us are still dealing with after effects of previous fires and smoke. No matter who or what causes the disasters, as a community, as a province —even as a country, are we prepared to cope?

Diana French is a freelance columnist for the Tribune. She is a former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian and book author.


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