Kirby Sentenced to $2.2M Fine for the Nathan E. Stewart Spill

The fuel spill from the Nathan E. Stewart, October 2016 (courtesy Heiltsuk Nation)

Published Jul 17, 2019 1:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

A Canadian court has fined American tug operator Kirby Corporation about $2.2 million for the environmental damages caused by the sinking of the ATB tug Nathan E. Stewart off Bella Bella, B.C. in 2016. Kirby pled guilty to three charges of depositing a substance harmful to migratory birds, depositing a harmful substance in a fishery and operating a tug in a pilotage area without a pilot. 

Kirby is the largest operator of tank barges in America, and its diversified portfolio covers inland and coastal marine transportation, on- and offshore oilfield equipment service, heavy equipment rentals and more. The fine is less than one-tenth of one percent of Kirby's $2.9 billion annual revenue for FY2018, and the local indigenous community in Bella Bella has called for the company to do more to compensate for damage to the area's marine ecosystem. The company still faces a civil suit by the Heiltsuk Nation for environmental remediation costs, as well as the impact on the tribe's marine resources. 

“Despite pleading guilty, Kirby Corporation still doesn’t seem to care. As we speak, they are waging an expensive and complex legal effort to split our civil case between two different courts, and to exhaust our resources in order to drastically limit their liability instead of compensating us for harms to our aboriginal rights and title," said Heiltsuk chief councillor Marilyn Slett in a statement. “Kirby Corporation is a multi-billion dollar American company, and yet it is Heiltsuk that has been on the hook for environmental assessment and remediation costs.”

To make its point, the Heiltsuk Nation has taken out an ad in Kirby's hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, asking readers to petition Kirby's CEO do more to take responsibility for the spill. 

“We sincerely regret this incident, and we have amended our operating procedures, training, auditing, promotion protocols and equipment to help reduce the potential for future accidents,” Kirby said in a statement.