US tug operator pleads guilty in Canada for 2016 BC oil spill

Nathan E. Stewart in 2010 Image: MarineTraffic.com/Malcolm Millar Nathan E. Stewart in 2010

US-based Kirby Corporation has pleaded guilty in Canada's British Columbia provincial court to numerous charges in connection with a highly-publicised oil spill caused by one of its vessels nearly three years prior.

The company has admitted to having committed violations against the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Pilotage Act after the inland tug Nathan E. Stewart ran aground and sank in BC within territory owned by the Heiltsuk Nation on October 13, 2016. The vessel spilled over 110,000 litres of diesel and heavy fuel oils into the waters of Gale Pass off Bella Bella when it sank, endangering the local wildlife as well as the livelihood of the local Heiltsuk community.

US and Canadian marine accident investigators had determined that the tug ran aground due to the watchperson having fallen asleep just before impact.

Kirby, which has been fined C$2.9 million (US$2.22 million) by the court, has said that it has since amended its operating procedures and its training of its crews to minimise the risk of similar accidents occurring in future.

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