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Port Alberni WCMRC team learns the spill drill

Spill response members simulates fuel spill for practice in Alberni Harbour
Crew members with the Western Canadian Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) deploy a containment boom from one of their workboats during a fuel spill drill in Alberni Harbour on Oct. 15, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Port Alberni residents who happened to be visiting Centennial Pier on Thursday, Oct. 15 got to see the new Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) spill response team in action.

It was no emergency, though: crew members were practicing a spill drill at the fuel docks in Alberni Harbour.

“This is an incredible training for the staff here in Port Alberni,” said Allan Gornall, WCMRC base operations manager and one of 10 people participating in the training. “We’ve hired a great number of accomplished mariners, but not a lot of people come to the table with that detailed spill response experience.

“All these touch points we get with the equipment and tools we use in spill response, and being able to apply them in settings like this, with our neighbours and working with the community, is really great for training.”

They worked with the fuel dock in Port Alberni for a training opportunity. “Doug is our neighbour and we’ve fostered a great relationship with him. He’s been generous enough to allow us use of his facility, or a portion of it for training today.”

They used the 73-foot Barkley Sentinel, a dedicated skimmer vessel, as their “incident vessel.” It was tied up in front of the fuel dock and WCMRC crew responded to a simulated fuel spill. They started with atmospheric monitoring and a site assessment—something done at every incident, to determine exactly what was spilled and whether toxic gases are being released into the atmosphere.

The crew was required to take six readings from various points around the spill before they could begin containing the spill.

They then boomed off the “casualty,” or incident vessel with an external containment boom to contain the spill. This included putting two anchor points on the boom to stabilize it and keep it away from the vessel, giving them room to work.

A fuzzy disc skimmer was released into the water for a demonstration. This small machine is able to separate diesel from saltwater, cycling the diesel into a storage tank and clean water back into the ocean, Gornall explained. There are dozens of these skimmers available at WCMRC bases on Vancouver Island to respond to spills.

The Barkley Sentinel is also capable of directly skimming a spill and storing whatever was spilled in its hold.

Doug Smith, owner of Port Alberni Marine Fuels at Tyee Landing, didn’t hesitate when the opportunity came up to partner in the spill drill.

“It helps us to see their procedures and see how they might be able to help if there was every a situation here. It also helps with future training for summer staff, telling them what to expect.”

Smith has a spill response plan for the fuel dock but says watching last week’s practice gave him some ideas for finetuning it., “incorporate some of the things I’ve seen them do and some of the things we might do prior to them arriving on scene.”

The threat at the fuel dock isn’t necessariy a spill at the dock facility itself, he said. “The reality is, the chances of the fuel facility itself having a spill itself are very small, by design of the facility and by design of the underlying of the structure that was here before us.

“We pass the fuel hose to the customer, and it’s on their boat. We don’t know the condition of their boat, and things break. A spill that’s going to happen is probably going to be a customer’s spill and not ours.”

The fuel dock provides diesel and gas for marine vessels of all sizes. Earlier this summer the privately-owned After Eight yacht docked at Port Alberni Marine Fuels for a night—at 152 feet long, one of the largest vessels to tie up since Smith opened his business.

Construction continues on the WCMRC base on Port Alberni Port Authority land. The marina will be built at the wharf street pier later this year, Gornall said.

A WCMRC work boat and its crew move slowly toward a vessel during a fuel spill simulation, Oct. 15, 2020 in the Alberni Harbour. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Crew members from the WCMRC deploy a 200-foot boom around the MV Barkley Sentinel, a 73-foot dedicated skimmer that was considered a ‘casualty’ in a fuel spill drill on Port Alberni’s waterfront Oct. 15, 2020. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Crew members aboard a WCMRC work boat set an anchor point on the boom to bring it away from the ‘casualty’ vessel and give them some space to work on cleaning up a simulated fuel spill. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
WCMRC crew members listen to instructions from their base manager, who is aboard the 73-foot Barkley Sentinel dedicated skimmer vessel. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Crew members carefully position the fuzzy disc skimmer inside the containment boom where it will separate diesel fuel from water, sucking the fuel into a storage container. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I proudly serve as the Alberni Valley News editor.
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