Canada will spend $1.5 billion to upgrade marine safety systems and a new oil spill response plan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, in an announcement that stopped short of a moratorium on oil shipments through British Columbia’s Inside Passage.

Environmental activists and First Nation groups advocate keeping tank vessels out of the passage, calls that intensified after the Oct. 13 grounding of the Kirby Offshore Marine tug Nathan E Stewart spilled diesel fuel and lubricants near Bella Bella, B.C.

Discussions of marine safety issues and new shipping safeguards had been ongoing for months before, involving provincial and federal government agencies.

“The nations that have been involved in shipping issues on the coast have met with the federal government over the last few months and it has been indicated that policy is changing to address our concerns,” Peter Lantin, president of the Haida Nation, said after that accident. “Unfortunately, the policy isn’t changing fast enough to deal with today’s problem.”

Less than a month later, a barge being moved by the 115.8’x29.6’x17’, 3,070 hp tug Columbia Layne, operated by Channel Construction Inc., Juneau, Alaska, was carrying sand and gravel from Seattle north to Juneau when it encountered rough weather Sunday evening. The load shifted, and the barge listed and flooded, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

The tug and four crew members were safe, and no spill reported. It happened hours after federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau visited Bella Bella to brief the Heiltsuk First Nation community on the government’s new ocean plan.

“A Coast Guard vessel currently responding to the Nathan E. Stewart spill had to be deployed to deal with this second incident, and at this time we don’t know if it will return tomorrow,” Jess Housty, a Heiltsuk elected councilor and member of the unified command managing the spill, said in a statement. “It is clear that Minister Garneau and Prime Minister Trudeau’s promised regulatory changes can’t come soon enough.”

The government’s five-year funding plan would add to the Canadian coast guard, including new rescue stations, and fund indigenous community response teams, like the Heiltsuk first responders at the Nathan E Stewart accident. Tougher rules are coming for polluters too, Trudeau said.

Garneau has said action is coming on the proposed tanker moratorium. Activist groups who want a moratorium — in part to oppose proposed pipelines and terminals for shipping oil sands petroleum — are keeping up pressure.

“The best way to truly prevent oil spills from tankers on the north coast is by formalizing a comprehensive, permanent oil tanker ban, and we are eager to learn the details of this vital step in the coming weeks,” according to a statement from the West Coast Environmental Law group.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.