Mystery Spill, St. John’s (2015)

LOCATION: St. John’s Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador

Case number: 120-686

On July 4, 2015, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) received a report of an oil sheen on the surface of the water at Pier 10 in St. John’s Harbour. (Pier 10 is the deep water pier in front of Water Street where large vessels such as cruise ships tie up.) A local tour boat operator reported the occurrence, he described it as thick oil covering an area of more than 50 square feet near Pier 10. A second report was received indicating that an oil slick extended along the shoreline of the Outer Battery towards the Harbour Narrows. In response, Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Response (CCG ER) personnel deployed small vessels and used sorbent material and booms to contain the oil slick. The pollution was found in several locations within the harbour, because it was being dispersed by the tidal flow. The sheen appeared to be used motor oil. Samples were collected for analysis.

Transport Canada Marine Safety were notified about the spill and commenced an investigation into the possible source. It was determined that the polar adventure cruise ship Ocean Endeavour had departed Pier 10 shortly before the pollution was found, but there was no report about an oil spill from the ship. In addition, Transport Canada informed Coast Guard that another vessel was boarded during the investigation.

Coast Guard hired Crosbie Industrial Services to help skim waste oil and oily water from the spill sites and dispose of the recovered contaminated materials. During the operation, 30 drums of soiled absorbent products were collected. A total of 10,600 litres of contaminated water and 400 litres of waste oil were recovered for disposal at the local waste reception facility. The sorbent boom streamed around the docks was recovered. Coast Guard utilized its own pollution response vessels for five full days during the clean-up operations. Coast Guard personnel also investigated whether the spill might have been released from dockside or land-based outlets into the Harbour, but no evidence of this was found. On July 8, the port authority was notified that the on-water recovery operations were completed.

On December 17, 2015, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO/CCG) filed a claim with the Administrator for costs and expenses in the amount of $27,169.98, pursuant to the Marine Liability Act (MLA). The Administrator acknowledged with appreciation the timely submission of this claim to the Fund.

The Administrator commenced an investigation and assessment of the claim. First, Transport Canada was requested to provide a copy of its on-site investigation as to the origin of the oil spill. On December 30, 2015, Ship Safety in St. John’s advised the Administrator that the investigation continues; however, the actual source of the oil spill still remains unknown. Based on the overall assessment of the filed claim documentation and further e-mail exchange with the Coast Guard’s response supervisor, it was determined that the full amount of $27,169.98 was established. Therefore, an offer was made to Coast Guard by registered mail on January 20, 2016, in the amount of $27,169.98, plus interest, as full and final settlement.

On February 3, 2016, a letter of acceptance was received from Coast Guard, but it did not include the executed Release and Subrogation Agreement. The reply indicated that the Commissioner is considering options on how to proceed. The Administrator responded on the same day and again advised that he will not proceed with the requisitioning of payment of this claim until the issue of the Release and Subrogation Agreement has been resolved.

On August 18, 2016, the Administrator settled with the Coast Guard for $28,101.98 including interest. This being a mystery spill, a responsible party could not be identified and the Administrator closed the file on December 6, 2016.