Ship fine ‘not even a slap on the wrist’: Arnold

The Sichem Montreal, seen here on the water near Montreal, has been fined $7,800 for an ethyl benzene spill in the St. Clair River last August.

The Sichem Montreal, seen here on the water near Montreal, has been fined $7,800 for an ethyl benzene spill in the St. Clair River last August.

St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold  says a $7,800 fine to a Singapore-based ship for an ethyl benzene spill is “not even a slap on the wrist.”

In August, the oil-chemical tanker Sichem Montreal  was taking on ethyl benzene from Styrolution Canada in St. Clair.

At the time officials couldn’t determine how much of the ethyl benzene spilled into the river and eventually downstream water users – Walpole Island and Wallaceburg – were told to shut their water intakes from the river after the chemical was detected. The water intakes were closed for several days.

Transport Canada has completed its investigation into the incident and says the ship was at fault. “The department determined that a violation of the regulation Section 187 of the Canada Shipping Act 2001 (no person or vessels shall discharge a pollutant) occurred,” says Pamela Mintern, communications officer with Transport Canada in an email.

“A Transport Canada Marine Safety Inspector attended the scene to ensure that corrective measures were put into place to contain further pollution and to determine if there were any violations of the regulations. The vessel was also detained following the spill in order to conduct an investigation. The detention was removed after the vessel posted a security bond.

“Following the investigation, Transport Canada Marine Safety and Security issued a monetary penalty of $7,800.”

The Canada Shipping Act does allow for fines of up to $1,000,000 depending on the “harm and risk caused by the offence, the estimate of the total cost of clean-up, of harm caused…and the remedial action taken.” Officials say for this offense the fine range is $1,250 to $25,000.

Mayor Arnold was frustrated on hearing the news.  “That’s pretty sad when that is all the value that is placed on the environment and the costs everyone incurred,” says Arnold.

“That’s not even a slap on a wrist. What type of a message you are sending? What are you saying to the shipping industry ‘yeah it’s okay’…(The shipping industry will say) ‘oh well, if we just ignore it long enough it will be fine…and even if we do get caught afterward, it is such a small amount of money, what does it matter?”

Jeff Wesley, the Chatham-Kent Councilor from Wallaceburg, agrees. “It’s peanuts. When you look at the value of the business they’re doing – it is simply peanuts.

“I know we spent a lot more than that to deal with the spill.”

And he wonders how Transport Canada determined the fine. “I know they didn’t ask what the impact was on our community.

Wesley says the fine should have been a lot bigger. “It becomes a cost of doing business if you don’t make it a monetary deterrent, companies will know in some cases it is easier to do the event and pay the fine than to make sure it doesn’t happen.

“It has to be a deterrent.”

Wesley, who recently wrote to Transport Canada and the Prime Minister urging them to share information about the spill and what was being done to prevent another in the future. “I find it rather distasteful that as an elected member of the council representing of the area affected…I have to find out about this from you instead of Transport Canada,” he added saying Transport Canada hasn’t talked to municipal leaders at all.

“We just want to know it is being looked after.

“When a government body doesn’t get back to you and basically says nothing that really concerns me…people who use the water for drinking …have a right to know.”

-Heather Wright