Review of Marathassa oil spill finds Coast Guard needs to communicate better

Dec 19 2017, 4:37 pm

An independent review of the M/V Marathassa oil spill found that miscommunication and a lack of understanding of duties between the Canadian Coast Guard and Port Metro Vancouver were among the causes of the slow response time.


The spill occurred on April 8 and saw around 3,000 litres of bunker fuel pollute the waters of English Bay.

A combination of factors including uncertainty of roles and responsibilities and technical difficulties were outlined in the report by reviewer John Butler as reasons for a response time that was nearly two hours after initial alerts came in.

“The Coast Guard and its partners need to plan together and exercise together so that everyone is clear about who is to do what and when,” said Butler at a press conference.

An initial low classification of the spill was also a key player in a lack of alerts for municipalities and First Nations groups. Some integral groups were not notified until the spill started garnering media attention.

“The local governments needed to be informed earlier so that the public could have been made aware of the incident,” he said.

Butler said that the M/V Marathassa crew denied the oil spill was coming from them, which was also a contributor to a slow response time. He said the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard base was not a factor – in fact, he said they were adequately staffed and does not recommend reopening bases in his report.

“The resources that the response organization had was ideally suited for this particular type of spill and in particular when the ship started discharging again early in the morning with our infrared system, we were able to detect that.”

He added that the local Coast Guard can call on other detachments across the nation if they need extra staff for a larger incident.


A total of 25 recommendations were made by Butler to streamline and improve the process for the Coast Guard to respond to oil spills.

Butler said Environment Canada could have aided the Canadian Coast Guard and the Environment Unit by having an on-site presence. Many people thought the Environment Unit could have a bias towards Alassia NewShips Management, the company that owns the M/V Marathassa, since they hired some of the members, and a ground presence by a governmental body could have prevented that.

The Coast Guard responded by accepting all of the recommendations John Butler laid out. Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard Jody Thomas said that while the execution of containing the spill itself and recovering the fuel was well done, she agrees that there are improvements to be made.

“I can assure you we take this very seriously, recognize how significant this was for Vancouverites, and that our actions to incorporate lessons learned are already well underway,” Thomas said in a statement.

To read the full report and all 25 recommendations Butler made to the Canadian Coast Guard, click here.

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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