Diesel Spill in the Great Bear Sea

In the early morning of October 13th, 2016, the tug Nathan E. Stewart towing a 10,000 ton tanker barge owned by the Texas-based Kirby Corporation ran aground in Seaforth Channel just outside of Gale Pass, near the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella. The tug sank shortly before 10am and with it approximately 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 2,500 gallons of heavy oil.

Now more than a week later, the sunken tugboat continues to pollute an area of enormous ecological, cultural, and economic importance. Humpback whales, orcas, wild salmon, sea otters and countless other species may be impacted by this disaster. Hindered by slow response time, as well as wind and strong currents, containment and recovery efforts by industry and government have been painfully slow and grossly ineffective. Efforts are underway to remove the remaining fuel from the sunken vessel, but the process has been much slower than anticipated to do poor weather conditions and other variables. Booms are continually breaking and being breached; spill containment has failed.

The spill has blanketed an area rich in manila clams, kelp beds, and fishing grounds where local Heiltsuk people harvest 25 different marine species. Gale Pass is a narrow channel between two islands with many calm lagoons, ten thousand year old village sites, ancient clam gardens and fish traps, as well as habitat for sandhill cranes, geese, ducks and coastal wolves. The slick has travelled through Gale Pass, as well as to the east and west in Seaforth Channel. The vast majority of manila clam harvesting areas in Heiltsuk territory are now under emergency chemical contaminant closure for all shellfish harvesting. 

“The Heiltsuk are heartbroken and angry over this environmental disaster. We don’t know how many years or decades it will be before we are able to harvest in these waters again. Yet our community members are heroic. The overwhelming majority of vessels out on the water are Heiltsuk volunteer crews. Our community members are doing their best to assist with response efforts, but have not been receiving adequate direction or training from the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation in charge of the clean up.” - Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett

We are distraught in the face of this disaster. We cannot emphasize enough our gratitude and respect for the Heiltsuk community for their tireless hard work and leadership on all fronts during this crisis. By supporting the Heiltsuk Nation directly, we aim to ensure that this kind of disaster won’t happen again.


Please consider lending your assistance in the following ways:

1. Heiltsuk Tribal Council has launched an investigation into the diesel spill. Please consider supporting this critical work. Your contributions will help cover costs the Kirby Corporation does not. 

Please Donate

2. Stand with the Heiltsuk Nation in demanding an immediate ban on articulated tanker barge traffic through the inside passage and Hecate Strait, as well as a permanent ban on oil tanker traffic in the Great Bear Sea. Click here to send a letter to government representatives, and to learn more about this issue.

Send a Letter

3. Stay tuned, and share information with your networks to gather support for the above efforts and next steps. For more information, we recommend the following links:

Thank you for your help and support.

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