Enbridge's proposed tanker routes flawed and dangerous, Master Mariner says

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  • Enbridge proposes one tug to escort each inbound tanker in ballast. This tug will not be tethered to the tanker. Outbound laden tankers will have two escort tugs in the confined channels, one tethered to the stern of the ship and the other will be available to assist as required. Once out of the confined channels one tug will continue untethered with the tanker to the pilot station. Given the potentially challenging weather conditions, combined with currents and the necessity for many course changes by the tankers in the confined channels between Hecate Strait and Douglas Channel, and the busy crossroads of vessel traffic in Wright Sound, the safest procedure would be two escorts tugs (at least, one tethered) with inbound tankers and both tugs tethered to outbound tankers through all confined channels. In the final analysis it is the pilots of the Pacific Pilotage Authority, not Enbridge, who will determine the number of tugs and the total horsepower required to escort a tanker.
  • The Enbridge proposal states that tanker speed will be reduced in confined channels to between eight and 12 knots. Laden outbound tankers, once up to speed, have a long reach if required to slow. However, on any vessel under pilotage it is the pilot who determines the ship’s speed. Ships under escort in Haro Strait and Boundary Passage in BC’s southern waters are not permitted to ever exceed 10 knots.

  • Enbridge proposes escort tugs (they say the cycloidal propeller tractor tugs are best for escort) with 100-ton bollard pull. Particularly for the proposed VLCCs, these tugs need to have minimum of 120 tons bollard pull (140 tons is optimal) and need to be capable of operation in all sea conditions. As proposed, with tankers inbound and outbound simultaneously, at least three escort tugs will be required. With the long escort distances and transit times each tug will need to carry double crews, living and working aboard in rotations, to remain fully operational and ready to respond to an emergency.

  • There are presently no large high-powered (170-ton bollard pull) privately-owned or Canadian Coast Guard salvage tugs stationed on this coast to respond to vessels in difficulty in the offshore waters. A loaded disabled 250,000 ton tanker in adverse conditions off the BC coast will represent a huge challenge to the best-trained salvage tug crew. Large salvage/response tugs have been built by the French (2) and the British (4) to protect their coasts. China has four very large salvage vessels presently under construction. Twenty years ago, Canada’s fleet of large Coast Guard cutters was aging and only one (the Terry Fox) had heavy towing capability.

  • All tankers, regardless of age, will need to be fitted with high-strength tow points capable of withstanding the full pulling power of the escort tugs and the proposed shipdocking tugs (two with 50-ton bollard pull) to be stationed at the Enbridge terminal in Kitimat. By Canadian law and international maritime convention, Transport Canada is required to conduct regular Port State Inspections of all foreign-flagged tankers (and other ships) entering Canadian waters for their seaworthiness. With the increased Kitimat tanker traffic a fully-funded Transport Canada Ships Safety division must be established at Kitimat to conduct continuous fully-transparent Port State inspections and maintain the additional services required (navigational aids, pollution response, vessel traffic services, etc). This cannot be achieved out of Vancouver and will require significant investment by Transport Canada.

  • The navigational aids on the proposed northern and southern routes are currently inadequate for increased large ship traffic. There is presently no marine traffic radar coverage on the north and central BC coasts. Enbridge has proposed that they will install new navaids and land-based radar systems, however they are now in discussion with Coast Guard and DFO as to who would be funding, constructing and maintaining these services. It’s the responsibility of Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) to monitor traffic in Canadian waters. Currently the federal government is cutting the Coast Guard budgets, not preparing them to deal with increased traffic in large tankers in confined waters.
  • There is no separate and large pollution clean-up fund as in the Arctic where petroleum producers are required to establish such a fund. There is no ‘user-pay’ system in place and the producers of bitumen will not accept liability for spills of their cargo. And the Coast Guard is underfunded and not equipped with the resources required to deal with significant oil spills, on behalf of the Canadian taxpayer. 
  • Kitimat is a poor choice for a major new Gateway port for the shipment of crude oil. The questions about tanker transits in confined waters and in severe West Coast winter weather conditions are too many and the risks to the marine environment too great.

    Capt. Mal Walsh
    Comox, BC

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