It's a clear sign an environmental disaster can and will happen.
That's the dire prediction by some following last Friday's accident involving a bulk carrier docking at the Westshore Terminals coal port at Roberts Bank.
The accident occurred at around 1 a.m. when the Cape Apricot crashed into a causeway, destroying about 100 metres of the structure, including a coal conveyer system.
The ship, which has a capacity of 180,000 tonnes, severed the only link with one of the terminal's two loading berths, knocking out half the capacity of North America's largest coal exporting facility.
An undetermined amount of coal spilled into the water, but no injuries were reported.
A team with the Transportation Safety Board is assessing the accident to determine whether a full investigation is warranted.
A spokesperson with Port Metro Vancouver said the port authority will ensure the clean up and repair work is completed to the appropriate standard.
Yoss Leclerc, harbour master for Port Metro Vancouver, told the Optimist the damage to the structure is still being assessed, as well as the best way to extract the spilled coal.
The accident provides ammunition for critics against port and pipeline expansion as well as the proposal to barge jet fuel up the Fraser River.
"Considering the planned expansion of the Roberts Bank port Terminal 2 and the irresponsible VAFFC jet fuel tanker proposal issue in the Fraser River, here is yet another example of the type of accident that can and has happened," said Otto Langer with Vancouver Airport Pipeline Opposition for Richmond (VAPOR).
Owned by a consortium of airlines that use YVR, the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation is proposing to ship jet fuel to a new tank farm that would be built on the Richmond side of the south arm of the Fraser.
An underground pipeline would then send the fuel to the airport.
Despite repeated assurances tankers are safe, Langer said groundings occur often. He said the greatest risk of a jet fuel spill would be a break to the unloading mechanism, which is what seems to have happened at Roberts Bank.
"I am certain tugs were on site at the time. The shipping industry, like Enbridge, argues that if tugs are present, accidents will probably not happen. If the facility (jet fuel tank farm) is to handle petroleum products, it's time our political leaders began to apply some common sense where these facilities are to be located," he said.
VAPOR's Jim Ronback told the Optimist that Friday's mishap highlights the flawed conclusions of a Port Metro Vancouver commissioned assessment last year on tanker traffic.
A joint statement this week by the Wilderness Committee's Joe Foy and Cathy Wilander of the Delta/Richmond chapter of the Council of Canadians stated, "This is a prime example of why it is unacceptable for the Vancouver Port Authority to be considering expanding coal export facilities off the coast. Coal shipping is a dangerous industry and accidents are inevitable. Expansion of exports will only further the risks of accidents and the degradation to marine ecosystems. Communities need to be given the facts when it comes to coal exports and given the right to say no to this dangerous and destructive industry."
Foy said it's shameful that an industrial accident is the event that has brought the Vancouver Port Authority's plans to greatly expand coal exports out into the open.
Noting hundreds gathered in Ladner this summer to protest port expansion, Wilander said, "There is no such thing as a minor spill when it comes to the environment. How much damage will be done by the coal dust in the air and coal in the water remains to be seen. It is harmful to salmon, harmful to the marine life on the mudflats and harmful to the birds wintering in the bay, for example."
She also noted Friday's accident is further fuel in the argument against the proposed Enbridge pipeline and tanker project.