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'Reckless': Richmond fishing firm fined $755K for ammonia release

In 2017, ammonia runoff was spilled into a storm drain and entered a slough that is part of the Fraser River.
The Viking Enterprise.

A Richmond-based fishing company has been fined $755,000 related to the handling and discharge of ammonia in 2017, a Vancouver Provincial Court judge ruled July 19.

Judge Ellen Gordon heard earlier the ammonia was taken from the Viking Enterprise trawler, stored on the Reagle wharf and then transported to the company operations near Jacombs Road and Cambie Road.

The events took place Oct. 15, 2017 to Nov. 24, 2017, starting with the removal of ammonia from the trawler as its refrigeration systems were being worked on. It was stored in a tank on the dock.

It was determined the ammonia was contaminated and the company received an $819,000 quote for disposing of it. The company decided to look at other options.

Gordon suggested the incident happened because the company wanted to save money.

The transportation through Richmond was done in a company truck but the driver had no training or certification in the transportation of dangerous goods, the judge said. The vehicle was not marked with hazardous materials signs as it moved through the city.

On arrival at the site, the tank remained in the truck, which was moved several times.

At the company site, she said, a “rogue employee” set up a so-called sparging system where the ammonia would be run through water. In this case, the water was in a fish tote.

The court heard such a practice is not uncommon as ammonia is readily absorbed by water.

However, federal Crown prosecutor Adrienne M. Switzer said in March, it was left to happen “under the darkness of night.”

What happened was that the water became saturated and the ammonia runoff was spilling into the storm drain, and from there into the slough.

“These offences were intentional and therefore high on the culpability spectrum,” Gordon said, noting ammonia is lethal to fish and can cause cataracts and blindness in humans as well as have liver, bladder and respiratory effects.

In March, Gordon said, “this was a horrific incident, a very dangerous incident.” 

Multiple individual and corporate defendants pleaded guilty to three counts from an indictment of 10.

The court heard the corporation has taken responsibility for the actions of employees. Those charges to which guilty pleas were entered are:

  • Arctic Pearl Fishing Ltd., Arctic Pearl Ice and Cold Storage Ltd., Xian Pang (Steve) Liu and Kwong Man Sang Company Ltd., as employers of David Liu allowed him to transport ammonia without complying with safety regulations;

  • Arctic Pearl Fishing Ltd., Arctic Pearl Ice and Cold Storage Ltd., Kwong Man Sang Company Ltd., Xian Peng Liu and David Wing Cheong Liu transported dangerous goods without displaying safety marks as required by dangerous goods transportation regulations; and,

  • Arctic Pearl Fishing Ltd., Arctic Pearl Ice and Cold Storage Ltd., Xian Peng Liu and Kwong Man Sang Company Ltd., and Wei Wu permitted ammonia to enter water frequented by fish.

The Crown had sought fines of $2,950,000 while the defence suggested $515,000.

The events

In her reasons, Gordon said a sanitation worker detected the leak on his morning rounds. Smelling ammonia, he ran when he began having breathing difficulties.

Emergency services soon arrived on scene to investigate with personnel in hazmat suits.

Officials from six agencies were called out.

Gordon also ordered the company to pay the City of Richmond $8,471 in restitution.

Emergency workers found the spigot from the tank had frozen over due to the ammonia.