First Nation queries tanker safety changes, as historic spill continues to ooze

HARTLEY BAY, B.C. – A First Nation on British Columbia’s central coast says the federal government is welcome to immediately launch expanded aerial oil spill patrols over its territory.

Arnold Clifton, chief counsellor of the Gitga’at First Nation at Hartley Bay, B.C., predicts the first patrol will spot oil right away from a wreck that sunk decades ago.

Clifton says that’s because 700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil has been oozing from a sunken U.S. army vessel since it sank in Grenville Channel 67 years ago.

The Gitga’at believe the 1946 wreck of the USAT Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski means an accident is inevitable in waters not far from the proposed tanker route for the Enbridge Gateway pipeline.

Clifton says a spill would destroy the Gitga’at way of life and he questions how the federal government intends to respond to major accidents, when it can’t clean up existing problems.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced changes Monday to improve oil tanker safety off Canadian coasts, including aerial surveillance, administrative penalties for polluters, mandatory marine response plans for oil terminal operators, and increased annual inspections for all tankers.