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Maritime industry operates safely

Steady as she goes: maritime industry operates safely


By: George Adams, special to the Vancouver Sun

April 9, 2013

While the debate over the Northern Gateway project continues to range widely, I have heard little input from the maritime community. As a former seafarer, a master mariner and with more than 50 years’ experience in the marine industry, I have witnessed huge progress in the construction, operation and management of ships and most of this has been aimed at increasing safety with respect to oil tankers and other cargo ships trading throughout the world. The extraordinary success of this effort is evident from statistical records detailing accidents and, pertinent to this debate, oil spills.

It is quite incorrect to state that tanker accidents and oil spills are inevitable. Each year, 80 million tonnes of oil are moved in bulk to and from Canadian ports. On this coast, bulk oil shipments have been moving to overseas markets from the port of Vancouver for over 50 years and during 2011, 32 deep sea oil tankers sailed from Vancouver, all without incident. Over the last 25 years, 1,500 ships have docked safely at Kitimat, where the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project is to have its marine terminal.

When anti-tanker spokespeople argue that oil tankers have no business in resplendent B.C. waters, they fail to recognize that oil tankers are sailing safely past Victoria on their way to and from Alaska and to other destinations.

Without the water-borne movement of oil, our lives would be quite different. On Vancouver Island we would have no lumber mills, no pulp and paper operations and, in fact, no industry. Agricultural equipment, public transport and even the private automobile would be immobilized. It is the bulk movement of oil and petroleum products that allows us to enjoy our lifestyle.

As with most things, the movement of oil, whether by sea, pipeline, truck or rail, involves some element of risk. The associated risks need to be identified, mitigated, minimized and managed. In the case of the Northern Gateway proposal, each of these steps has been done to an extraordinary degree.

For example, current legislation requires that two B.C. pilots will board and guide every tanker calling at Kitimat terminal. These pilots have vast experience of local waters, they are independent, highly competent and have an exceptional record of safe movement of vessels. They will use their local knowledge of routes, weather and terrain to guide these tankers to and from the open ocean.

Additionally, international regulations dictate that the tankers employed to move the product from Kitimat will be modern and of double-hulled construction. A radar system will be installed at various strategic points along the route and our B.C. towboat industry, which is globally recognized as a leader in its field, will provide local tugboats which will be tethered as and when appropriate, to escort and guide the ships.

As a further step in managing associated risks, the federal government announced last month the creation of a tanker safety expert panel to review Canada’s current tanker safety systems and to propose further measures to strengthen them.

At its very narrowest, the Douglas Channel, through which tankers will travel to reach Kitimat, is 1,400 metres wide. There is nothing particularly hazardous in moving vessels of the size envisaged through this waterway in the controlled manner proposed and, to competent mariners, the approaches to the port of Kitimat are reasonably straightforward. By comparison, two tankers a week pass through Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet including traversing the Second Narrows which, at its narrowest is 150 metres wide.

What is exceptional about the Northern Gateway project is not — as those opposed to the pipeline would have you believe — the presence of oil tankers on the B.C. coast, but the extraordinary amount of careful consultation, research, engineering, environmental science, oceanographic assessment, weather monitoring and simulation that has gone into the planning of the Kitimat terminal and related marine routes.

I have a strong interest in maintaining and improving maritime safety. I support the Northern Gateway project because I am confident that its maritime components can be implemented in a safe and environmentally sound manner.

Seafarers are not vandals intent on destroying our coastal beauty. On the contrary, unlike the majority of our population who live and work in cities, seafarers spend most of their time in the midst of nature’s wonders. More than most, they experience and appreciate the beauty of nature and they are exposed frequently to its mighty powers. More than most, they are conscious of its vulnerability and the need to preserve it.

Capt. George Adams is a master mariner and a retired transportation executive. He lives in West Vancouver.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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