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Oil spill response vessels tour through Tofino and Ucluelet

Western Canada Marine Response Corporation offers tours of Barkley Sentinel and Solander Sentinel
Owen and Tyson Rhodes check out the view from the captain’s seat during a tour of WCMRC oil response vessel Barkley Sentinel. (Andrew Bailey photo)

Western Canada Marine Response Corporation drew Tofino and Ucluelet locals to the dock for tours of two oil response vessels.

West Coasters were invited to climb aboard the 22-metre skimming vessel Barkley Sentinel and 15.8-metre Solander Sentinel with tours hosted at Ucluelet’s Whiskey Dock on Oct. 11 and Tofino Resort and Marina on Oct. 12.

“We brought them down here today so people can get a chance to check them out and see what we’re all about…We’re spreading information and giving people a chance to get on board,” WCMRC communications manager Michael Lowry told the Westerly News at Ucluelet’s event, adding that community support is “absolutely crucial.”

“We’re here to protect your coast, our coast, it’s very important that people know and trust what we do. Just like you trust the fire department, we want people to know how we operate and trust that we can do our jobs so that if there ever is a spill they know we’ve got their backs and they’ve got ours.”

The vessels are part of WCMRC’S Port Alberni response base,which covers oil spills on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Eight vessels are moored at the Port Alberni base and two of its vessels are forward stationed in Ucluelet, a mini-barge and a boom skiff.

“The role of the Barkley Sentinel is to do the recovery off the water, so it actually cleans up the oil from the surface. It holds about 40 tonnes, so when those tanks are full then instead of this vessel having to go to shore we offload onto the mini-barge so that this vessel can continue to do its operation and continue to work,” he said.

“We’ll be rotating vessels from Port Alberni through Ucluelet on kind of a regular rotation,” Lowry said.

He added the Barkley Sentinel is equipped with infrared cameras so it can operate at nighttime and can work 24/7 if needed.

The bases are part of an ongoing expansion over the past six years in preparation for increased tanker traffic due to the Trans Mountain expansion. Lowry said WCMRC now has bases in Nanaimo, Sidney, Beecher Bay, Vancouver, Fraser River and Port Alberni.

“Trans Mountain put in some voluntary enhancements for their project and so that’s why we’re adding new capacity along the coast. They’re stationed where they are because of the international shipping lanes. That’s where all the deep sea vessels go, that’s where the tankers go, that’s where the risk is, so we strategically station our vessels and our assets along that route,” he said.

Lowry said the fleet gets called out roughly 20 times a year, including a response to a fishing vessel that went down near Port Alberni last year, but has fortunately not had to respond to a large spill yet.

“We do get called out a fair amount, but they’re typically smaller spills and marine diesel type spills,” he said, adding the fleet is ready if a larger spill occurs. “It’s all about preparedness, just like any kind of emergency response. A lot of people compare what we do to the fire department. You’re training. You don’t necessarily have a lot of big ones but you always need to be ready in case there is one so there’s a lot of training and maintaining. Our folks are always out there.”

He added WCMRC is also developing protection strategies for the region.

We’ve got a program where we’ve identified sensitivities along the coast, areas that would be particularly sensitive to an oil spill, like a salmon migrating stream, bird habitats, First Nations cultural sites and we develop protection strategies particularly for those areas,” he said. “If we can put a boom around that sensitivity before the oil gets there, then we can prevent the damage to that particular habitat or sensitive area.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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