Sarah Desgagnés (2015)

LOCATION: Hamlet of Salluit, West of Ungava Bay

Case number: 120-683

On November 6, 2015, the Administrator received a written enquiry from a lawyer representing the Makivik Corporation of Nunavik about the procedure to obtain compensation for loss of damage due to an oil spill caused by a tanker in Canadian waters. The enquiry was with respect to an oil spill occurrence caused by the tanker Sarah Desgagnés during its annual fuel delivery to the hamlet of Salluit, West of Ungava Bay. The lawyer asked whether it was necessary to first file judicial proceeding against the shipowner, or his insurer, or could he simply file a claim with the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund.

The Administrator advised counsel for the Makivik Corporation that the Canadian regime is based on the fundamental principle that the shipowner is primarily liable for oil pollution damaged caused by the ship. Pursuant to the Marine Liability Act (MLA), the action for compensation may be taken directly against the shipowner or insurer by submitting a claim directly to them. In most cases this is the effective and timely way to proceed, particularly when the owner of the Sarah Desgagnés is a known responsible party. Furthermore, counsel was informed that a claim may be filed with the Administrator as a first resort. The lawyer was also mailed copies of the SOPF claims manual in both official languages.

The Administrator investigated with Coast Guard and learned that the spill had occurred in Northern Quebec on October 7, while the tanker was transferring fuel to the community. Strong winds and snow required the fuel transfer to be quickly stopped for safety reasons. Following the standard emergency disconnect process, the fuel line was severed by the ship’s propeller. At the time, the fuel transfer had already stopped, but an estimated 3,000 litres of fuel was spilled from the fuel line. The fuel dissipated quickly, and there was no observable sheen seen around the tanker. On October 8, the CCGS Terry Fox arrived on site to assist in the initial assessments and clean-up operation, if necessary.

Representatives of Environment Canada assessed whether there were impacts to the shoreline; fish and wildlife. The risk was considered low but as a precautionary measure, and to address any potential impact on the subsistence harvest of clams and mussels, the local residents were advised not to conduct harvesting near the area until further notice. Coast Guard advised later that the Sarah Desgagnés took responsibility and appropriate measures to respond to the incident.

As of the end of the fiscal year, the Administrator has not received a claim for this incident. The file remains open.