Bella Bella, Heiltsuk Territory (December 2, 2017) – After a stormy crisis and nearly weeklong ordeal, Heiltsuk leadership is relieved that the departure of the Jake Shearer and its fully-laden fuel barge is imminent.
“Now that we’re nearing the end of this situation, it’s terrifying to take a step back and think about what could have been,” says Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “Since the fuel barge was towed to safe harbour, it was confirmed that it was carrying four times the volume of petroleum products initially reported. In fact, therewere approximately 12.5 million litres of diesel and gasoline aboard, and a single anchor that held them offshore in Sunday night’s storm.”
The Jake Shearer and its barge have been in safe harbour near Bella Bella since Monday evening, surrounded by precautionary boom. They were joined on Tuesday by the Earl W. Redd, another tug belonging to Harley Marine, which will complete the tow to Alaska.
“Heiltsuk representatives appointed by our stewardship offices observed inspections of the vessels to ensure they are seaworthy,” said Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt. “It’s our responsibility to have a strong presence in order to protect our waters. We’ve been part of every aspect of this incident response.”
Heiltsuk Nation’s experience with marine emergency response during 2016’s Nathan E. Stewart disaster had the community on edge all week.
“We’ll be relieved to see this vessel out of Heiltsuk waters, and we intend to make sure other vessels like it are regulated out of our waters for good,” says Chief Slett. “Indigenous communities bear the highest risk from marine shipping incidents, and it’s time for our deep local knowledge and stewardship ethic to drive marine emergency response in the region,” said Chief Slett. “We look forward to implementing our proposal for an Indigenous Marine Response Centre with the support of all other levels of government and our neighbours.”
Just three weeks ago, Heiltsuk released a report analyzing past marine incidents on the central coast and proposing an Indigenous Marine Response Centre to vastly improve marine safety and safeguard the environment.