A Richmond-based fishing company should pay $2.95 million in fines related to the handling and discharge of ammonia in 2017, a Vancouver provincial court judge heard March 29.
Judge Ellen Gordon heard 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.
“This was a horrific incident, a very dangerous incident,” Gordon said.
Multiple individual and corporate defendants pleaded guilty to three counts from an indictment of 10 that involved the transportation, storage and then venting of the potentially lethal substance into the air or runoff into a storm drain to a nearby slough.
The court heard the corporation has taken responsibility for the actions of employees. Those charges are that:
- 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.
Federal Crown prosecutor Adrienne M. Switzer told Gordon the leak of the “corrosive, toxic substance” was detected by a sanitation worker on his morning rounds. Smelling ammonia, he ran as he feared his truck would already be contaminated.
The man then called emergency services, who arrived on scene to investigate in hazardous material suits. Officials from six other agencies were also called out.
“There was concern it might be a drug lab,” she said. “There was a very significant response.”
Switzer said an ammonia level reading showed the air held a “potentially lethal dose.”
Switzer said 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,” she said, noting one quote showed the disposal of the ammonia could be $819,000.
“This offence happened because Mr. (Steve) Liu wanted to save money,” Switzer said, saying there was a “reckless disregard for the people in the community, for his employees, for the regulations.”
She said Steve Liu asked David Liu to move the tank from Reagal to the company’s office site.
“The tank wasn’t a tank that was certified for transportation,” Switzer said.
The transportation through Richmond was done in a company truck but the driver had no training or certification in the transportation of dangerous goods, Switzer said.
On arrival at the site, the tank remained in the truck, which was moved several times.
It was at that site that Wu, also an 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.
“Ammonia is readily absorbed by water,” Switzer said. “This is not an uncommon process.”
However, she said, 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.
The next morning, a Smithrite employee arrived at the site and smelled ammonia.
“He immediately knew he was in danger and had concerns for his safety,” Switzer said.
Emergency workers found the spigot from the tank had frozen over due to the ammonia.