Efforts to stop more coal from falling into the Georgia Strait are underway after a massive freighter crashed through a coal exporter’s conveyor belt at Roberts Bank in Delta early Friday.
The 180,000 tonne Cape Apricot – a ship too large to traverse the Panama Canal – destroyed more than 100 metres of the belt leading to Westshore Terminals’ largest loading berth at 1 a.m., dumping about 30 tonnes (one third of a rail car) of coal sitting on the belt into the water.
“You’re not expecting a ship to ram through your coal way,” Westshore spokesman Ray Dykes said Sunday. “It’s like when a car goes through a restaurant window – it’s like we own the restaurant.”
Vacuum trucks spent the weekend sucking up the remaining 100 tonnes of coal stranded on the belt, which feeds coal at high speeds to vessels parked at the berth, Dykes said.
An independent environmental advisor is also at the scene to assess the situation and advise Westshore how to deal with the coal in the water in an appropriate way, Dykes said. Westshore will wait for their advice before it demolishes the belt’s unsafe parts and starts reconstruction.
The empty ship wasn’t damaged and is now filling up at Westshore’s smaller berth. The accident was not like an oil spill since the coal is inert and will dissipate quickly, he said.
“If it was a major amount, dredging would be the normal process. This is not the case here,” he said.
But the spill should make Port Metro Vancouver rethink coal export expansion, Kevin Washbrook of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change said in a statement.
The accident appeared to release a “substantial plume of coal dust into the ocean,” Washbrook said according to a CKNW News Talk 980 photo. “Coal dust is a toxic substance containing heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury.”
Vancouver Coun. Adriane Carr has called for public consultation before any expansion projects are approved.
It’s not clear how the crash occurred. The Transportation Safety Board did not return calls Sunday.