Western Canada Marine Response Corporation held an oil spill response exercise in Nanaimo on Tuesday, April 9. The training session simulated a diesel spill near Jack Point and Biggs Park. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

Simulated spill off Vancouver Island keeps vessels ready to respond

Spill response corporation held exercise in Nanaimo as part of Transport Canada certification

Despite local operations being in limbo, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation held dry run training off the coast of Vancouver Island to prep for a fuel spill.

A simulation in Nanaimo on Tuesday saw vessels from the corporation’s south coast and Vancouver Island fleets working with a command post set up at Vancouver Island Conference Centre, according to Michael Lowry, corporation spokesman, with the exercise done to maintain Transport Canada certification for spill response.

The way spill response works typically, said Lowry, is when vessels arrive on scene, their first priority is to contain the vessel that is leaking.

“What that means is they’re going to wrap boom around that vessel and so once the casualty is contained, the next priority for them is to do protection strategies along the coast,” said Lowry. “So the boom vessels will go out and pre-boom some of the sensitive areas along the coast and then from there, they’ll switch into the recovery mode and so you have work boats that can do a sweep system with booms for the water and then you also have specialized skimming vessels.

“So these are purpose-built boats that will put boom arms out and they will become a skimming system themselves. So they’ll go into the slick and the oil will collect in special chambers on the vessels and brush skimmers will rotate through to clean it up and from there, as those vessels fill up and as the skimmers fill up, that recovered oil has to be pumped into barges.”

RELATED: Spill response vessels unloaded in Nanaimo

Lowry said the incident command post manages the on-water operations and uses the same system used for managing emergencies such as earthquakes and forest fires. Everyone wears a vest and once you have training, you can walk into a command post, know your role and get to work immediately, he said.

“It’s designed on ‘span of control’ so it depends on the size of the incident,” said Lowry. “You can have five people in the command post, you could have 5,000. The BP spill down in the Gulf Coast, that was a massive incident command system and different functions, so you’ve got the people doing the planning, people doing communications, people identifying (environmental) sensitivities and doing the planning side. Typically once a command post is rolling, the first couple of days are usually quite chaotic as you’d imagine, but once it gets rolling, you’re always planning for the next day.”

RELATED: B.C. spill response plans in limbo after Trans Mountain decision

Plans for a primary marine response base proposed for Port Drive is currently on hold because of uncertainty with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. A lease is in place with the Nanaimo Port Authority for the base, however.

“In terms of where that’s at right now, when the court ruled that the government needed to do some more work looking into the risks for the pipeline … we were about to go to construction tender and that work was paused,” said Lowry. “Now if the project goes ahead again, we’re in position [for] construction. But right now where it’s at is that we’ve got the lease in place with the port, but we’re not proceeding until there’s some sort of final decision on the pipeline.”

WCMRC intends to build six bases in Vancouver Harbour, near Annacis Island in the Fraser River, in Nanaimo, Port Alberni, the Saanich Peninsula and Beecher Bay near Sooke.



reporter@nanaimobulletin.com

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Michael Lowry, spokesman for Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, shows off an oil skimming vessel in the waters off Nanaimo during a training exercise Tuesday. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

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