Coast Guard Cleanup of Sunken Munitions Ship Raises Concerns of Gitga’at First Nation

Coast Guard Cleanup of Sunken Munitions Ship Raises Concerns of Gitga'at First Nation

Federal government’s 10-year response time and refusal to consider potentially toxic munitions, fails to ease community concerns about pollutants and oil spill response.

The Gitga’at First Nation says that the federal government announcement will pump fuel from a sunken American munitions ship inspires little confidence in the government’s ability to respond to oil spills and protect the coast.

The USAT Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski sank inside Gitga’at territorial waters in 1946, carrying at least twelve 500-pound bombs, large amounts of .30 and .50 caliber ammunition, and at least 700 tonnes of bunker oil. The ship began leaking oil in 2003, and in 2006 the federal government promised to clean up onboard fuel and munitions, but did nothing for years.

“Removing this bunker oil is long overdue, but it is not a full cleanup and it should not be used as a public relations exercise for the Conservative government’s push to bring Enbridge’s oil tankers to BC’s coastal waters,” said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation. “Where were they ten years ago when our community requested a cleanup?”

The Gitga’at say that a true cleanup would include the toxic munitions onboard the ship – which have never been fully assessed – as well as consultation with the community to insure that environmental and human health impacts are addressed, including bringing the Gitga’at’s own expertise – not just the Department of Fisheries and Oceans – to ensure any risk assessment is consistent with the Nation’s own Marine Use Plan.

“This has been a slow motion oil spill in our backyard for ten years,” said Chief Clifton. “We are hopeful the Federal government will follow through on their announced plan. However, the 10-year response time, and limited scope of cleanup, gives our Nation zero confidence that the government is capable of handling Enbridge’s proposed oil tanker traffic in our coastal waters.”

The Gitga’at are concerned that the potential for toxic leaks from the onboard munitions and their potential impact on marine life and shellfish has never been addressed. Many of those same resources are already experiencing hydrocarbon pollution from the nearby Queen of the North ferry, which sank in 2006, as well as the Zalinski. They are concerned there may be even more toxic, unreported munitions on board.

The Gitga’at First Nation is one of nine coastal First Nations who have formally banned tar sands oil tankers from their lands and waters, based on their ancestral laws, rights and responsibilities. The nation recently instructed Enbridge to leave its territory after the company began project work without adequate prior notice or approval.

Press Release, July 29, 2013