Editorial: Petition for safer, cleaner Gulf Islands waters

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Three years ago, the Canadian government introduced the Interim Anchorages Protocol in response to many complaints about international freighters parking in waters between the Southern Gulf Islands and
Gabriola Island. 

It was part of the much touted $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, and while island residents were skeptical that the protocol would really make a difference, it at least appeared to be a step in the right direction. In fact, except for data on vessel use of anchorages and complaints about them being collected, nothing has changed in the past three years. 

Some 33 spots are designated as approved spots for huge ships to drop anchor while they wait to be accommodated at the Port of Vancouver. Sometimes those ships wait for weeks for a spot, with noisy generators running around the clock, lights blaring away and crews engaging in ship maintenance. The biggest concern, though, is that a collision will result in a fuel spill in our waters. 

Information contained in a recent Transportation Safety Board report points to valid reasons to worry. The TSB investigated a March 2020 incident that saw two ships’ anchors get tangled in Plumper Sound. In addition to identifying “gaps in the effectiveness of safety management” in that case, the report revealed that 102 incidents of ships dragging anchor had been recorded on our coastline between 2015 and 2020. 

The Islands Trust and its chair Peter Luckham have devoted considerable time and energy to keeping this issue in the spotlight, along with citizens’ groups, First Nations, other local governments, the province and some area MPs. Last week Luckham told the Driftwood, “The incident where those two ships’ anchors got tangled was a serious wake-up call, and we haven’t woken up.”

This is a situation that could be ameliorated if there was a sincere desire to do so on the part of the federal government, the shipping industry and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. It’s time for all parties involved to “wake up.”

It truly feels like a David and Goliath scenario, but First Nations, residents and local governments are not going to give up fighting this intolerable situation. A House of Commons petition at petitions.ourcommons.ca — under e-2985 — is the first place for islanders to make some waves and have their voices heard. 

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