More than a week after a diesel fuel spill at the mouth of the Hay River, the mess is almost all cleaned up and the public beach reopened after being closed for several days.
The spill occurred Sunday, June 20, and by Thursday the beach had reopened.
The Northern Transportation Company Limited (NTCL) vessel Kelly Ovayuak developed a crack in her hull while sailing early last week and a relatively small amount of diesel leaked out, according to Canadian Coast Guard representative Dan Bate.
“The exact amount of fuel is not known, but it wasn’t a large spill by any means,” he told The Hub. “The crew of the ship acted effectively at the time and the spill was under control in a timely manner.”
Bate also noted that while any fuel spill is cause for concern, the diesel released into the water on this occasion posed less of a problem than it would had it been crude oil. Diesel floats on water and eventually evaporates. He explained that the bulk of the spill had been mopped up by crews from NTCL and government agencies, and that the remainder – a thin sheen of fuel on the water – could not be picked up by those methods but would dissipate on its own.
“Under the law, they have to have a plan for how to deal with these kinds of situations on board each vessel,” said Bate.
MLA for Hay River North Robert Bouchard seemed to take on the duties for communication with the public last week with regular social media posts updating residents on the situation. He said that, as far as a bad situation goes, this one was handled well and has been resolved for the most part.
“This is the best of the worst case scenario we could have had, really,” he told The Hub. “Now, the hope is that it brings forward an opportunity to get everyone together to discuss our response for this type of situation and how we can do better.”
NTCL has so far declined to comment on the situation entirely, something Bouchard said he understands, but that it also played a role in the public’s perception of the spill.
“Communication is always the question for these things,” he said. “NTCL and the coast guard have been focusing on dealing with the situation, not communicating it, but the problem is, in these times with technology, people expect updates and communication right away.”
Overall, Bouchard said he thought the agencies involved – including coast guard, Environment and Natural Resources, and the Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment – did a good job dealing with the spill and were monitoring it moving forward.
“This needs to lead to a bigger discussion of these issues and how we’re going to handle them,” he said. “With future development and the kinds of things we’re shipping through there, we need to have measures in place to prevent spills and handle them if they do happen.”
— Sarah Ladik