Two years ago, the federal government pushed forward with their decision to close down the Coast Guard base at Kitsilano despite warnings from municipal and provincial officials that such a move could jeopardize public safety.
This week’s bunker fuel oil spill in English Bay incident proved that, beyond any doubt.
The nearest Coast Guard crews in Richmond took six hours to arrive at the scene and deploy an oil-absorbing boom around the grain-carrying cargo ship that released the substance.
Former Kitsilano Coast Guard base commander Fred Moxey told CKNW a single rubber boat was deployed on Wednesday night as Richmond’s hovercraft is not able to travel on an oil slick. But the Kitsilano base, if it were still operational, would have been able to respond to the incident in six minutes and with the proper equipment to contain a spill from spreading across the water and onto the shoreline.
The Kitsilano Coast Guard base was the busiest Coast Guard base in Canada, responding to about 350 calls for rescue per year, and it served Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet – the busiest harbour in Canada.
The former base possessed a conventional vessel capable of responding to an oil spill, but the vessel was stripped for parts and sold after the base shuttered its operations.
A total of four Coast Guard bases in B.C. were closed in 2012-13 as a budgetary measure, although the federal government was criticized for simultaneously spending $6.6 million to construct a new Coast Guard base in Newfoundland.
The Kitsilano base is said to have reduced the Coast Guard’s annual operational costs by about $700,000. It was replaced with what Premier Christy Clark described as “a dangerous drop in service:” a small three-person inshore rescue team, consisting of two students and one Coast Guard boat manager with a five-metre inflatable rescue boat stationed at Stanley Park during the busy leisure boating months from May to September.
The federal government said it would take 30 minutes for the more equipped and experienced Richmond crews to respond to an incident in Vancouver’s local waters.
UPDATE at 2:30 p.m.: Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has announced that his party will reopen the shuttered Kitsilano Coast Guard base if elected into office later this year.
“Stephen Harper’s cuts to marine safety resources and the closure of Vancouver’s Kitsilano Coast Guard Base each undermine our ability to respond to spills like this,” said Trudeau. “A new Liberal government will re-open a full-service Coast Guard station in Vancouver and re-invest in marine safety and oil spill response capacity on the BC coast.”