Oil is seen on the water in Seaforth Channel following an oil spill near Bella Bella, B.C., in this undated handout photo, following the sinking of the 30-metre tug Nathan E. Stewart. (photo The Canadian Press/HO-Heiltsuk First Nation)

Heiltsuk challenges feds decision to award $67M contract to east coast towing company

Heiltsuk Horizon challenges decision to award emergency ship towing contract to Irving company

Heiltsuk Horizon is challenging the federal government’s decision to award a $67-million contract to provide emergency ship towing services off the coast of B.C. to Atlantic Towing.

Heiltsuk Horizon is a partnership between the Heiltsuk First Nation and Horizon Maritime Services, developed to combine First Nations knowledge with experts in marine safety.

The Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT) has started a second inquiry into a dispute between both marine safety companies over Public Services and Procurement Canada’s processes.

READ MORE: Heiltsuk Nation sues B.C., feds, owner of tug that spilled 100K litres of diesel

In mid-2018 the federal government awarded a three-year contract to Atlantic Towing, a company under Irving, to lease two vessels – the Atlantic Eagle and the Atlantic Raven – capable of towing commercial ships in distress.

The contract is part of the Oceans Protection Plan, to provide a marine safety system to prevent marine spills and other incidents in Canadian waters.

Heiltsuk Horizon first alleged that Altantic Towing’s vessels did not satisfy the mandatory technical requirements to deliver the towing power stipulated in the tender.

“All of Atlantic Towing Limited’s offshore supply vessels have their bollard pulls [towing power] certified by Det Norske Veritas, the world’s largest marine certification body. DNV issued a verified bollard pull certificate for each of the Atlantic Eagle and Atlantic Raven in 2013.” wrote Mary Keith, vice president of communications for Irving, in an email.

READ MORE: Feds and Heiltsuk First Nation sign $37M reconciliation agreement

The CITT ordered a re-evaluation on all of the bidder’s bollard pulls, and Procurement Canada found that Atlantic Towing satisfied the mandatory requirements.

Heiltsuk Horizon is now alleging that Procurement Canada didn’t do the re-evaluation fairly, stating that they “deviated from the standards of fairness established by Government of Canada’s procurement legislation, and concluded that it was unreasonable for Procurement Canada to find that the winning bid complied with critical mandatory requirements in question.”

Keith said Atlantic Towing was “the successful bidder based on the merits of its vessels’ capabilities and its comprehensive competitive response.”

Slett said a partnership with Heiltsuk Horizon should have been embraced by the government providing, in her view, a “win-win” for both Canada and First Nations.

“When this decision happened we were feeling profoundly disappointed and our community was upset. Our community experienced a devastating spill that motivated us to develop our marine response and Canada developed the Oceans Protection Plan. We’re in this era of reconciliation where we can put meaningful partnerships between coastal communities and the government,” Chief Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk First Nation said.

READ MORE: “Does Kirby care?” Heiltsuk Nation using geo-targeted ads in Houston, Texas for justice


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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