Inside Canada’s first spill response organization on the west coast

The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation has been responding to oil spill emergencies for almost 50 years

By James MacDonald
May 22, 2023

Inside Canada’s first spill response organization on the west coast

The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation has been responding to oil spill emergencies for almost 50 years

By James MacDonald
May 22, 2023
The Race Sentinel maneuvers around Spirit Bay on the South Island, as part of the Beecher Bay crew runs through a Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) verification and boom laying exercise. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
The Race Sentinel maneuvers around Spirit Bay on the South Island, as part of the Beecher Bay crew runs through a Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) verification and boom laying exercise. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Inside Canada’s first spill response organization on the west coast

The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation has been responding to oil spill emergencies for almost 50 years

By James MacDonald
May 22, 2023
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Inside Canada’s first spill response organization on the west coast
The Race Sentinel maneuvers around Spirit Bay on the South Island, as part of the Beecher Bay crew runs through a Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) verification and boom laying exercise. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Everything is electric blue.

The April sky, the waters of the Juan de Fuca, and the crystal clear Olympic mountains across the strait on the American side.

Carving a white trail across the water’s surface, the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) landing craft the Race Sentinel tears off towards Race Rocks located off the southern tip of Vancouver Island. 

Founded in 1976 as Canada’s first spill response organization, WCMRC is responsible for huge swaths of the 27,000 kilometres of British Columbia coastline. It has been responding to oil spill emergencies and spills on the coast for close to five decades; it averages 20 call responses per year. 

Today it is a practice and training deployment for the Beecher Bay crew, as they run through boom deployment and geographic response strategies (GRS) verification of sensitive and important sites along the south coast of the Island. The Beecher Bay base is the newest of the four bases spread around Vancouver Island.

Tarpan Roy, the base operations supervisor, says the WCMRC plays an integral role in and around the Island’s waters.

“With the forecasted increase of vessel traffic in the Strait [of Juan de Fuca] as well as the Salish Sea, there is always a potential of risk when it comes to oil spills. Our role is to provide safe and effective oil spill response in the area,” he says.

“That means knowing our working area extremely well, understanding the potential risks, working with local stakeholders and communities, and ensuring we are always response ready to be able to react to any potential scenarios.”

With some of the most wild, rugged, and remote coastline in the world, regions of BC and the Island can present challenging scenarios, and areas that are in need of geographic strategies and protection in the case of a spill. Partnerships with Island First Nations can help fill those gaps, says Roy. 

“First Nations along the coast are experienced mariners and their timeless history along the coast means they have extensive knowledge of where key sensitivities may be that we can protect by deploying geographic response strategies. Many First Nations communities are remote, and through working together under our Coastal Response Program, First Nations can become first responders on our behalf, thereby reducing our response times.” 

“Fortunately for us here in the South Island, we have not had too many incidents that we have been tasked to,” says Roy.

But with events like the Zim Kingston fire in 2021, and the much more recent sinking and subsequent recovery last week of a sunken fuel truck on the east side of the island in the Johnstone Strait, there is the ever present reminder of the threat to the coastline and the need to protect it.

The Race Sentinel (left) and the Cheanuh Sentinel (right) maneuver around Spirit Bay on the South Island.
The vessels and crews run through a Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) verification and boom laying exercise.
Crew from the Beecher Bay WCMRC base disembark from the Race Sentinel to attach an oil spill boom to the shoreline.
The crew runs through a Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) verification and boom laying exercise.
A crew member on the Race Sentinel pulls in boom line, following a GRS verification and boom laying exercise.
The Race Sentinel sails out into the Juan de Fuca Strait.
The Race Sentinel in the Juan de Fuca Strait with a bulk carrier and a container ship in the distance.
Crew tie up the Cheanuh Sentinel, on her return to the WCMRC dock in Beecher Bay.
The Race Sentinel pulls back from shore after attaching an oil spill boom to the shoreline, as they run through a Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) verification and boom laying exercise.
Crew steer the Cheanuh Sentinel out into the Juan de Fuca Strait.
The WCMRC vessels, the Cheanuh Sentinel and Race Sentinel, pull alongside following their GRS verification and boom laying exercise near Beecher Bay.
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