With funding for the federal government’s five-year Oceans Protection Plan due to run out this year, island residents working on the freighter anchorages issue are disappointed to see negligible action on that front.
Islands Trust Council chair Peter Luckham and staff attended a three-day forum on the plan hosted by Transport Canada last week. Luckham observed the $1.5-billion initiative, which launched in 2016, is Canada’s largest-ever investment in marine environment protections. But while advances have been achieved in respect to things like whale protection and the understanding of bitumen, next to nothing has changed when it comes to commercial freighters using sensitive Gulf Islands waters as a long-distance parking lot for the Port of Vancouver.
“We’re more than four years into the process. They’re talking about wrapping it up next year — and so far the process has been completely absent of any recommendations or solutions,” Luckham said.
The Islands Trust has advocated for years for the eventual elimination of freighter use of the anchorages and has asked that a port management plan be developed to reduce waiting times at the Port of Vancouver. Voluntary protocols were established to decrease anchored vessels’ impacts on island residents in terms of lights and noise, but Luckham said these are not often followed. Indeed, ship crews frequently take advantage of their time waiting to enter the port by doing maintenance work, with accompanying loud noise that disturbs wildlife as well as humans. Air pollution and substances dumped overboard into the ocean are additional issues, along with anchor drag across the seabed and the potential for fuel spills.
On Feb. 8, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada released the findings of its investigation into the entanglement of two ships’ anchor lines and the subsequent collision between the Golden Cecilie and Green K-Max 1 that occurred in Plumper Sound during a windstorm last March.
According to the report, “TSB investigations have found that, even when formal processes are present, they are often not effective in identifying hazards or reducing the risks. The Golden Cecilie’s safety management system was certified and audited by an approved authority. However, the investigation identified gaps in the effectiveness of safety management relating to the vessel’s preparedness for adverse weather.”
The authors note 102 anchor dragging occurrences were reported along the B.C. coastline between January 2015 and March 2020, or around 20 per year. Their investigation did not address broader issues of potential environmental impacts, however.
“The report was alarming. It pointed out some obvious shortfalls in safety and situational awareness . . . but there was lots left unsaid. It didn’t really dig deeper,” Luckham said.
Luckham added oil spill response times are still not being adequately addressed, despite the work of the Oceans Protection Plan. There is a six-hour delay before a response team reaches the Salish Sea, which is enough time for an outgoing tide to turn and the waves to bring fuel in towards the shore.
Additional matters not being addressed, Luckham said, are that freighter sizes have increased to such a degree they are too big to get all their cargo loaded at once, meaning they actually return to a long-distance anchorage midway, and thereby double the opportunity for incidents to occur. Shipping traffic has also increased.
“The number of vessels transiting our area is so large, it’s not a question of ‘if‘ there will be incidents,” Luckham said. “The incident where those two ships’ anchors got tangled was a serious wake-up call, and we haven’t woken up.”
Luckham said the Islands Trust will continue trying to work with the federal government, and he hopes to meet with new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. The Trust appeared to be making headway with provincial government support prior to last fall’s election, and they plan to do some proactive follow-up there.
Islands Trust Council has also given its full support to a federal private member’s bill introduced by Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford. The bill proposes to amend the Canada Shipping Act to prohibit freighter anchorages throughout the proposed Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area. The boundary extends from Saanich Inlet and Cordova Bay to the southern tip of Gabriola Island.
A petition to the House of Commons to support the bill is open until March 31 at petitions.ourcommons.ca under e-2985 (Transportation). Luckham encourages island residents concerned about freighter anchorages to sign on.
“The more voices we can bring to the table, the better,” he said.