Les lois du pétrole ont devenir plus sévère, mais ont besoin plus de travaille pour empêcher les morts du oiseau marins.

Chaque année, les bateaux déchargent intentionnellement quatre fois plus de pétrole dans la mer que toutes les pertes involontaires qui sont souvent rendues publiques avec bruit.. 

Et pourtant, il suffit d'à peine une goutte de pétrole la grandeur d'une noix pour tuer un oiseau marin. 

Le projet de loi C-15 a maintenant force de loi et a augmenté les amendes pour déverser intentionnellement du pétrole de 250 000 $ à 1 000 000 $.

Bilge Oil Blues

Sarah Patton and Robert Rangeley
June 2006 

l.gif (280 bytes)n April 11, 2006, bilge oil from an unidentified ship was illegally dumped off of southern Newfoundland killing thousands of seabirds and sea ducks. The oily waste was dumped near shore, during the start of the nesting season when waters temperatures were still near to freezing. These factors made this most recent spill one of the worst to ever occur in eastern Canada in terms of visible damage done to wildlife and the environment. 

Though efforts were made to determine the source of the oil, the responsible ship was never identified, and no charges were laid in association with the crime. This incident was tragic, but it is certainly not isolated. 

Some of the world's busiest shipping routes converge in Atlantic Canada, coincident with the ranges of roughly 40 million pelagic seabirds. The proximity of the ships passing through the area to critical marine habitats puts seabirds and other marine wildlife at perpetual risk to oiling incidents.

Ship dumping bilge oil
(photo: Canadian Coast Guard)

Oil from ships can enter the water through large or small accidental oil spills, but it most commonly reaches the marine environment through the deliberate, illegal and routine discharge of untreated oily ship wastes. All motorized vessels accumulate oily bilge water during normal operations, and most transport ships have the capacity to either store their oily wastes until it can be legally disposed of at a destination port, or on-board facilities to treat wastes and legally discharge them at sea. 

Unfortunately, many ships' captains and crewmembers choose instead to illegally dump their untreated oily wastes into the sea, saving their companies time and money, but costing hundreds of thousands of seabirds and sea ducks their lives, and polluting our marine environment. The cumulative impacts of these illegal and irresponsible actions on Canada's marine wildlife are immense.

Four times more oil is intentionally dumped into the sea from ships each year than is released from all of the world's unintentional and often highly publicized spills combined. Yet it takes as little as one drop of oil the size of a quarter to kill a seabird. Oil's hydrophobic nature causes it to be readily absorbed into the bird's plumage, decreasing the bird's insulation, waterproofing, and buoyancy. 

The oiled bird then sinks deeper into the water, and becomes less able to fly, forage, and fend off predators. Less able to insulate against the cold water, it also requires more calories to try to stay warm. Unable to compensate for its growing energy deficit, its body begins to metabolize its own muscle tissue. If the bird ingests or inhales the petroleum products while trying to preen itself of the substances, the products' toxic effects can also lead to liver failure and blindness. If it does not sink, or is not scavenged first, the bird eventually freezes or starves to death.

Oiled seabird
(photo: Canadian Wildlife Service)

Representing one of the highest oiling rates in the world, ship-source oil pollution kills an estimated 300,000 seabirds every year in Atlantic Canada. This trend must not continue.

The problem of illegal oil pollution is pronounced in Canada for several reasons. The first is that Canada's surveillance, enforcement efforts, and penalties have historically been inadequate to provide strong punitive incentives for compliance with our marine pollution laws. For example, between 1994 and 2004, the average fine levied on those dumping oil in Canadian waters ranged between ten and fifteen thousand dollars . In the USA and Europe, fines are routinely in the hundreds of thousands to million-dollar range, and surveillance and enforcement efforts are much more intensive than Canadian efforts. Conviction in other countries also commonly results in criminal charges and the suspension of working papers for ships' operators, which has not occurred in Canada. 

The second reason is that facilities for ships to legally dispose of their wastes may be inadequate to efficiently support 100% compliance with legal disposal laws. Canada's less frequent surveillance, low marine pollution prosecution rate, and infrastructural issues has made our waters an attractive dumping ground for ship operators looking to break the law.

In the spring of 2005, Canada moved to combat the problem of illegal bilge oil dumping by passing Bill C-15, which amends the Migratory Birds Convention Act (1994), and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999). The amendments clarify the prohibitions found in both Acts against the dumping of oily bilge wastes or other pollutants into the ocean, and strengthen Canada's legal capacity to prosecute marine polluters. 

Bill C-15 extends jurisdiction of the existing legislation to include all of Canada's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, increases maximum penalties for polluters from $250,000 to $1,000,000, increases minimum fines from $100,000 to $500,000 for vessels over 5000 tonnes (dry weight), and holds operators of ships illegally polluting in Canadian waters individually accountable for these actions. Bill C-15 does not impose any new restrictions on ships, but significantly improves the power of Canadian authorities to detect, detain, and enforce the full extent of Canadian laws against those who choose to violate it.

Common Murre colony at Great Island, NL
(photo: Candian Wildlife Service)

With the passing of Bill C-15, the federal government promised to re-allocate $3,000,000 from within the existing Environment Canada budget to fund coordinated, multi-departmental surveillance and enforcement activities, develop new laboratories, hire and train new staff, and re-train existing staff to implement the initiatives outlined within Bill C-15. Some of these initiatives are already underway.

Bill C-15 is an important step in the right direction, and it sends a message to potential polluters that Canada will no longer tolerate flagrant disregard for our marine pollution laws. But much more remains to be done. The federal and provincial governments, in partnership with industry, academia, and non-governmental organizations need to support efforts to address research and development needs, support conservation strategies, strengthen surveillance and enforcement efforts, and increase infrastructural capabilities for ships to legally dispose of oily wastes in Atlantic Canada. Without these efforts, Canadian waters will continue to be illegally polluted, and vast numbers of Canadian wildlife will continue to be needlessly killed by oil. Canada now has the mandate and the power to combat this problem; efforts must continue to ensure that the practice of illegal bilge oil dumping is eliminated in Canadian waters forever.

[1] The highest fine ever levied for ship-source oil pollution in Canada is $170,000.