Editorial: Anchorage use must be addressed

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A near disaster earlier this spring kicked the issue of freighters anchoring in Gulf Islands waters into the headlines once again.

On March 30 in Plumper Sound between Pender and Saturna islands, high winds caused the 198-metre-long MV Golden Cecilie to collide with the 229-metre MV Green K-Max and their anchors become entangled. Transport Canada says it inspected the vessels, but no official probe of the incident was mounted. Islands Trust Council chair Peter Luckham has since sent a letter to federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, calling for a Transportation Safety Board investigation.

In 2018, the federal government introduced the Interim Protocol for the Use of Southern B.C. Anchorages as part of its Oceans Protection Plan. The stated aim was to reduce the impacts of large vessels at anchor in 33 different south coast spots awaiting access mainly to the Port of Vancouver and Canada’s coveted grain, coal and potash supplies. While some rotation of anchorage use did result, data was collected and reports that even acknowledge complaints produced, Gulf Islands residents and regional citizens groups will attest that the initial problem is the same: noise, light and discharge pollution, damage to seabeds from dragging anchors and the risk of fuel spills during stays that often extend up to and sometimes beyond two weeks in duration. Mooring in our waters is free.

Not every jurisdiction in the world is at the mercy of international shipping interests, though. In this week’s Driftwood with a nod to World Oceans Day on June 8, Salt Spring resident Christoph Rohner outlines how regulatory changes and supply chain scheduling improvements were made in the Newcastle anchorage area near Sydney, Australia, following a freighter grounding there in 2007.

The Gulf Islands anchorages issue may be languishing under the deep water of the COVID-19 crisis at the moment, but it needs to surface again and receive the dedicated attention of the federal government.

One way for islanders to make their opinions heard is through the No Freighter Anchorages group website. It contains a template for a letter asking for change directed to minister Garneau, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Bernadette Jordan. Unless a serious mass of residents raises a fuss about this issue and ultimately makes it an election issue, Gulf Islands waters will continue to be used as a holding tank for massive cargo ships with a fuel spill risk just the worst of the impacts we live with every day.

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