Marathassa (2015)

LOCATION: Vancouver Harbour, British Columbia

Case number: 120-673

On April 8, 2015, the owner of the local sailing vessel, Hali, reported to the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) that there was an oil spill near the entrance to Vancouver Harbour. The Harbour Master was also informed and assigned a duty harbour boat to investigate. The boat found an oil spill of approximately 200 square metres near the anchored grain ship Marathassa. (The bulk carrier had arrived from Korea on its maiden voyage to load grain. The ship of 43,229 gross tonnage was built in 2015. The 229-metre ship was registered in Cyprus.) Later the oil spill was found to be more significant than originally believed. Consequently, Coast Guard contracted the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) to take appropriate response measures. WCMRC streamed a containment boom around the anchored grain freighter. A number of the Corporation’s skimmers were used to try and recover the heavy oil surrounding the ship. The Coast Guard remained on site throughout as On-Scene Commander.

The WCMRC informed the Administrator about the occurrence. Counsel was then instructed to discuss the situation with the Vancouver based Coast Guard Environmental Response Manager. During daily follow-up discussions, counsel was informed that a large amount of oil had escaped the containment boom. Reports were received that oil was washing up on a small beach in West Vancouver known as Sandy Cove, and that oil was also seen on the water off Stanley Park. During the next few days, the bunker fuel soiled several beaches along English Bay and Burrard Inlet. All this contamination required more clean-up operations and monitoring of the possible effects upon migratory bird species in the anchorage area. The overall response and clean-up lasted a total of 16 days.

Counsel also reported that Transport Canada, Marine Safety, had boarded the ship and obtained oil samples from each individual fuel tank. The Ship Safety officers conducted a Port State Control inspection. The Transport Canada aerial overflights estimated some 2,800 litres of oil in the water in addition to the 800 litres recovered by WCMRC. The Captain and representatives of the Marathassa initially denied responsibility; however, it was subsequently determined that the ship had discharged an unknown quantity of intermediate fuel oil. The Ship Safety inspectors identified the source of the oil spill from the Marathassa as being a mechanical defect in the newly built vessel that allowed bunkers into the bilges. Therefore, when the crew washed down the cargo holds in preparation for the loading of grain, they believed they were pumping clean bilge water overboard. However, they were pumping overboard bilge water contaminated with bunker fuel oil. Transport Canada reported that during the investigation of the cause of the leak the Captain and owners of the ship co-operated fully.

Due to the complexity of the incident and criticism that Coast Guard received from the city authorities and others for what was perceived as a slow response to the persistent fuel oil spill, the Commissioner of the Coast Guard initiated a review for the purpose of identifying what worked well and what could be improved. The “Independent Review of the MV Marathassa Fuel Oil Spill Environmental Response Operation” was released to the public on July 31, 2015. The Minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans accepted all 25 recommendations and advised that they are being addressed.

As instructed, counsel contacted the legal adviser for the Standard Club and Europe Ltd. and the owners of Marathassa to discuss security on behalf of the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund, both as to quantum and form. A Letter of Undertaking was received from the Standard Club in a form that has been accepted by the Administrator in similar circumstances. The Administrator was initially advised that claims were being dealt with by the counsel for the insurers. However, three claims were eventually filed with the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund before the expiration of the prescription two-year period laid down in the Marine Liability Act (MLA). The file remains open.