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When will the next accident happen?

Shipping accidents are not only a catastrophe when oil tankers are involved. Freighters can also carry thousands of tons of fuel.

Think accidents are rare? Check the List of Shipwrecks in 2018.

In 2009, the 242-meter bulk carrier Hebei Lion dragged its anchor in a windstorm and ran aground on Conconi Reef in Plumper Sound, between Mayne and Pender Islands. Fortunately the hull stayed intact.

Several other incidents of freighters dragging their anchors close to shore have been observed in the Gulf Islands.

In April 2015, the bulk carrier Marathassa leaked 2.7 tons of bunker fuel into Burrard Inlet, English Bay, and Vancouver Harbour.

Fishing and swimming were prohibited because of toxic pollution.

Several years after, the City of Vancouver is still in courts trying to recover half a million dollars in cleanup costs. Consider this was from only a very minor portion of fuel carried by such vessels.

In February 2018, HMCS Calgary spilled about 20 tons of fuel into Georgia Strait between Parksville and Tsawassen. Transport Canada conducted overflights on 2 consecutive days and reported that 'no pollution was observed' and 'no further updates are anticipated'.

In March 2019, two freighters collided at night in Vancouver, BC.

In March 2020, high winds caused two freighters to drag anchor, entangle anchor chains, and collide in Plumper Sound near Pender Island.  The Islands Trust called upon the federal government to conduct an investigation and eliminate commercial anchorages in the Southern Gulf Islands.

The safety investigation report found: "Between January 2015 and March 2020, a total of 102 dragging anchor occurrences along the BC coastline were reported to MCTS. When a vessel drags anchor, it can result in a collision, a grounding, or other emergency situations."

Yet Transport Canada found this risk entirely acceptable. This decision was widely criticized. The recommendation that ship crews need to listen to weather reports is not a satisfactory solution to ongoing risks.

When will the next accident happen, and what environmental disaster may follow? In our islands, pollution has nowhere to go, and anchored vessels are so close to shore that any responses to contain fuel or oil spills would be too late.

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