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Marine transport firm fined $2.7M for 2016 British Columbia spill

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A British Columbia court has fined Kirby Offshore Marine Operating LLC $2.7 million after the Texas-based company pled guilty to three charges in relation to a 2016 oil spill in the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella, B.C.

Kirby Offshore’s deep-sea towing tugboat, Nathan E. Stewart, ran aground on October 13, 2016 at Edge Reef, resulting in the release of some 107,552 litres of diesel fuel and 2,240 litres of lubricants. The tugboat then completely filled with water and sank, coming to rest on the seabed.

Clean-up and tug salvage operations continued for the next 40 days, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

On July 16, the court sentenced Kirby Offshore, based on three guilty pleas. Firstly, the company was found in violation of the Fisheries Act for depositing a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish; second, the company was found in violation of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, for which it was fined an additional $200,000; and lastly, the company was fined $5,000 for the offence of failing to comply with pilotage requirements under the Pilotage Act.

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During a 2018 investigation, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board found that a crew member on the boat missed a planned course change because he fell asleep.

“The investigation determined that the second mate, who was working alone on the bridge and was fatigued, was asleep when the [articulated tug-barge] ATB passed approximately 1 [nautical mile] nm abeam of Ivory Island at the entrance to Seaforth Channel, and did not make the planned course alteration into the channel. The ATB then struck and grounded on a reef,” the report states.

The Nathan E. Stewart was also not equipped with a bridge navigational watch alarm system, the Board found.

The company’s fines will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund and recommended to be used toward the conservation of fish and fish habitat in the Central Coast region of British Columbia.

Kirby Offshore Marine Operating LLC began in 1921. It is one of the largest towing operators in the United States.

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