Kirby pleads guilty to criminal charges in Canada spill

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Heiltsuk Nation

A Canadian court has imposed penalties of C$2.9 million (about US$2.3 million) on Houston headquartered Kirby Offshore Marine Corp. Kirby entered guilty to three of nine criminal charges related to a diesel spill from the ATB tug Nathan E. Stewart that ran aground in October 2016 near Athlone Island, British Columbia.

The spill occurred in the traditional fishing territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation.

A subsequent Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigation determined that the second mate who, contrary to Canadian regulations, was keeping watch alone on the bridge at the time of the accident, had fallen asleep and missed a planned course change.

In a plea agreement Kirby pled guilty to three counts

  • One under s. 5.1(1) of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, for depositing a substance harmful to migratory birds.
  • One under s. 36(3) of the Fisheries Act, for depositing a harmful substance in water frequented by fish.
  • One under s. 47 of Pilotage Act for proceeding in a compulsory pilotage area not under the conduct of a licensed pilot or the holder of a pilotage certificate.

The company still faces a civil suit by the Heiltsuk Nation for environmental assessment and remediation costs, as well as communal harvest and cultural damages associated with the spill.

Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation called the penalties imposed “a far cry from real justice.”

“Despite pleading guilty, Kirby Corporation still doesn’t seem to care,” she said. “As we speak, they are waging an expensive and complex legal effort to split our civil case between two different courts, and to exhaust our resources in order to drastically limit their liability instead of compensating us for harms to our aboriginal rights and title.”

The First Nation has now launched a social media campaign under the slogan “Does Kirby Care?”

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