Elf (2014)

LOCATION: Squamish Harbour

Case number: 120-646

The incident occurred on January 14, 2014, when the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) received a report from the District of Squamish that the Elf sank near the government wharf in Squamish Harbour. It was reported that a significant amount of oil was upwelling from the wreck, which had sunk in an environmentally sensitive area. The Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Response (CCG ER) personnel indicated that they were aware of the vessel prior to its sinking, and had dealt with the owners in previous pollution incidents involving vessels they owned.

In light of the well-known environmental sensitivities of the geographical area, the CCG ER personnel from the Richmond depot proceeded to the area with pollution counter-measures equipment. They went to the Squamish Yacht Club, which is directly across the Mamquam Blind Channel from the site of the incident. At the Yacht Club they met with municipal officials, the RCMP, concerned citizens, and an individual who presented himself as the owner of the vessel. Because the person could not provide proof of ownership, Coast Guard requested information directly from Transport Canada Ship Safety, and found that the Elf was not registered. Later it was ascertained that the person who was operating the vessel was in fact the owner’s representative. The owner’s representative was advised about the owner’s responsibility to respond, and his liability if he chose not to. He responded, basically, that the owner did not have insurance and that he was unable to contain or clean up the oil spill. The lack of response, combined with CCG previous experiences with the owner’s representative, left CCG no choice but to raise the vessel itself. As a consequence, the CCG ER personnel took immediate steps to contain the spill and upwelling from the sunken vessel. An oil containment boom and sorbent materials were deployed. At the same time, a local oil spill clean-up contractor was hired by the District Authority to boom off an area upstream where there is an endangered species of red-legged frogs.

The initial assessment of the three-kilometre long Mamquam Blind Channel showed that 90 per cent of the channel was covered with a rainbow of sheen and other dull coloured oil. Environment Canada was contacted by Coast Guard and requested to provide sensitivity mapping as well as a trajectory model for the spill. The Provincial Ministry of Environment advised Coast Guard that it could be used as a resource if needed. During the evening of January 14, Coast Guard convened a meeting at the Yacht Club. It was attended by representatives of the City of Squamish, Squamish First Nation, Provincial Ministry of Environment, RCMP, Environment Canada and the owner’s representative. Following the meeting, CCG ER contacted Hydra Marine Services Inc., and arranged for divers to arrive the next morning and try to plug the vents, or at least reduce the amount of upwelling diesel, hydraulic and lubrication oils.

On January 15, Coast Guard continued to clean up oil around the sunken vessel by the use of absorbent pads, containment booms and a small skimmer. An emergency response contractor, Quantum Marine, was hired by Coast Guard to clean up oil that had made its way in and around the marina and docks within the channel. The divers from Hydra Marine were able to slow the leak of fuel oil, but not stop it completely. Given the situation, and the level of environmental risk, Coast Guard engaged a contractor, Vancouver Pile Driving Ltd., to raise the wreck. On January 16, the salvor arrived from Vancouver harbor with a large crane and divers and commenced work. The divers prepared lifting straps around the vessel. The Elf was slowly brought to the surface.

Pumps were placed on board and the vessel dewatered as much as possible. It was found that the majority of the fuel and oil had settled in various cavities of the vessel. Coast Guard was unable to quantify the amount of oil remaining on board. Once the Elf came to the surface and was dewatered, Coast Guard hired a marine surveyor from the firm of Reliable Marine Surveyors to inspect the condition and seaworthiness of the vessel. The surveyor reported that there was “significant wood deterioration” to the hull and advised that the vessel should be raised so the hull below the waterline could be inspected. There remained a risk that it could sink again; therefore, CCG decided to remove the vessel from the marina to control oil leaking in the environmentally sensitive area. Arrangements were made to have the vessel towed from Squamish to English Bay and then transferred to another tug to tow it up the Fraser River to Shelter Island Marine, where it would be hauled out of the water.

When Coast Guard first responded, the Administrator was advised that the costs associated with pollution abatement resulting from the sinking of the wooden tug could be significant. The Administrator, therefore, instructed counsel to engage a marine technical surveyor to attend the scene of the incident during salvage of the sunken vessel. The surveyor spoke to the representative and boarded the Elf when it was refloated. He also had discussions with the CCG ER personnel about the measures planned for the recovery. Coast Guard invited the surveyor to attend operational meetings at the Squamish Yacht Club. As a result, the surveyor was able later to advise the Administrator that the measures taken by the contractors during the refloating operations, and preparing the Elf for tow to the Fraser River for storage, were sufficient to eliminate the threat of further oil pollution, other than light unrecoverable sheening.

Finally, on January 17, the Elf was handed over from one tug company to a second company, Valley Towing. Shortly after the transfer, the Elf started to sink. This second sinking occurred within only one minute. On the day of the second sinking, the Coast Guard responders returned to Squamish and continued with containment and recovery of oil pollution that lingered throughout the Mamquam Blind Channel. On January 20, Coast Guard recovered its containment boom and departed the area. The Elf, a 74-foot wooden hull tug built in 1902, is presently resting in approximately 120 metres of water one mile off Point Atkinson.

On August 12, 2014, the Administrator received a claim from Coast Guard, on behalf of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO/CCG), for costs and expenses in the amount of $82,512.70, pursuant to the Marine Liability Act (MLA).

The Administrator commenced an investigation and assessment of the claim. In general, the Administrator found that the presentation and the support documentation of this claim, as compiled by the officials in the Pacific Region was impressive. The manner in which the claim was submitted facilitated making a full assessment and offering recommendations for settlement and payment of the established amount. When asked for clarification on a few matters, the regional staff replied with the requested documentation without delay. The claim documentation, along with the photographs, indicated that the Elf had discharged, was discharging, and was likely to continue discharging oil as it lay partially submerged at the wharf. There was adequate documentation to substantiate that it was necessary to raise the sunken vessel and remove it from the marina to prevent further oil pollution throughout the area. There is clear evidence that the invoices CCG received from the contractors have been paid.

After investigation and assessment of the claim, the Administrator concluded, on the basis of his findings, that the full amount of the claim was established. Therefore, on December 18, 2014, an offer was made to DFO/CCG for the full amount of $82,512.70, plus interest, as full and final settlement. The Administrator explained that the offer was made conditional on his receiving with Coast Guard’s notification of acceptance of the offer, the return of the Release and Subrogation Agreement duly executed. The Administrator noted that he would not proceed with requisitioning payment of this claim until he received the duly executed Release and Subrogation Agreement.

On February 13, 2015, a letter of acceptance of the offer was received from the Coast Guard, but the letter of acceptance did not include the executed Release and Subrogation Agreement, which was attached to the Administrator’s offer. On February 17, the Administrator informed the Coast Guard that the matter has been referred to counsel.

On August 4, 2016, the Administrator paid the Department of Fisheries and Oceans $88,702.92 as full and final settlement of their claim. On September 30, 2016 the Administrator made demand by registered mail upon the shipowner to pay the claim amount plus interest. On October 7, 2016, the Administrator filed a statement of claim in the Federal Court against the shipowner.

This court case was joined with another Federal Court case where the shipowner sues the DFO/CCG for damages caused to his ship. This second court case involves several third parties. On October 26, 2016, the shipowner filed a Statement of Defence and Counterclaim against the Administrator. Squamish Marine Services Ltd filed a Defence to the Counterclaim on December 16, 2016 and on January 3, 2017, a Third Party Defence was filed with the Federal Court by Valley Towing Ltd. The file remains open.