Regs still tight on tug crew sizes, says Transport Canada

This article is another testimony to the powerful and effective investigative journalism that the Tyee has become known for in North America. It keeps us informed, and holds government officials accountable.

Transport Canada and a representative of the tug crews it regulates disagree over whether a potentially risky practice is being allowed in the transport of oil through the Burrard Inlet.

The dispute follows a story that ran last week in The Tyee regarding the number of crew members required on tug boats escorting oil tankers through the treacherous waters of Second Narrows.

Brad MacTavish of the Canadian Marine Services Guild (CMSG), the organization that represents vessel crews and marine pilots, told The Tyee (and Vancouver City Council) that these transits were regularly occurring with only two crew members on board rather than the normal four, based on an exemption dealing with "sheltered waters."

The Tyee report quoted MacTavish saying Transport Canada is using "loopholes... to allow assist tugs escorting tankers to go out with two-man crews when they used to require a four-man crew. They allowed the companies to twist the law around in the last year."

He said thinner crews raised the risks of an oil spill in Burrard Inlet, where tanker traffic is on the rise.

Who's better at counting?

Transport Canada Spokesperson Gillian Glover responded to The Tyee article saying it was "inaccurate on many accounts. There have been absolutely no changes to any existing policy or regulation on tug escorts... In the harbour, tug escorts can operate with a minimum of three persons: a master, deckhand and engineer. Federal regulations have allowed, in extremely rare circumstances, two-person harbour tugboat under strict and limited regulations. According to the Marine Personnel Regulations (MPR 216 (3)(c) two members are allowed and that is only for tug boats assisting in docking and undocking."

She later added: "To be clear, [those tugs with reduced two crew] are only allowed to operate with a two -person crew while docking and undocking... Under federal regulations, none of these tugs can conduct a vessel escort through the Second Narrows with a two person crew."

The Tyee checked back with MacTavish of the CMSG, whose members crew tugs in Vancouver's port, and he stood by his statement that some tug escorts have been operating with only two members in situations other than assisting in docking and undocking.

MacTavish questioned how Transport Canada can be so sure in calling his assertion "inaccurate."

"How would Transport Canada know?" he said. "They don't do many inspections and they don't even have a boat anymore."

Give us details: Transport Canada

Transport Canada's Glover told The Tyee her office was serious about enforcing regulations. "If there are situations where tugs are escorting vessels with a two-person crew, they would not be complying with Transport Canada regulations and we would certainly investigate the matter. If you have information regarding vessels operating a two-person crew in an operation other than docking and undocking, we would like to know full details in order for us to investigate."

The Tyee will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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