Container Ships, Anchorage Safety & Climate Emergency

Container Ships, Anchorage Safety, and COP26

In this Newsletter:

Container Ship Accident - How Safe Are Anchorages?
Supply Chain Problems with Containers - More Ships at Anchor?
COP26 - Resolving Anchorage Problem Will Help Canada's Targets

Container Ship Fire: How Safe Are Freighter Anchorages?

The container ship Zim Kingston kept burning for days at an anchorage off Victoria. This raises a number of safety concerns.

What if toxic smoke came from a ship anchored so close to our residential areas and sensitive marine ecosystems? If BC is so well prepared for more oil tankers, was there no capability to extinguish this fire sooner?  Are there potentially dangerous chemicals on ships in the Southern Gulf Islands?

Typically, the ships seen at anchor in the Southern Gulf Islands are bulk carriers that are not used for hazardous materials, but rather for commodity exports such as coal and grain. Some carry sulphur and phosphates that are used for fertilizers, but not in a format that could lead to explosions such as occurred in the port of Beirut in Lebanon.

Nevertheless, damaged bulk carriers could spill large quantities of fuel, coal, or fertilizers into sensitive marine ecosystems. Spills could accumulate in confined spaces such as Ganges Harbour with its favourite beaches.

While the world was watching the Zim Kingston burning, a major storm hit BC's coasts. Little attention was paid to accidents in the making for ships anchored in the Gulf Islands - see post below about observed anchor dragging.

What if another ship had been nearby? What if the wind had blown toward the rocky coast? What if a freighter at Ganges Harbour had hit the Sister Islands at Chocolate Beach or Beddis Beach? Should safety be ignored until environmental damage occurs?
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Container Ships at Island Anchorages?

Container ships are rarely seen at anchor in the Southern Gulf Islands. Usually, container ships are handled very efficiently at port. They dock at terminals upon arrival and leave again within hours.

There is much talk about global supply chain problems as the economy is recovering after Covid-19. Does this mean we will have more ships at anchor this winter? Not necessarily.

It is important to recognize that there are different types of supply chains. The global supply problems for many consumers concern goods that are transported in containers.

Freighters typically anchored here are part of another supply chain. They are waiting to be loaded with bulk commodities, not containers. Commodity trades are different. Grain transports are down by about a third this year because of this summer's drought in the prairies. From this angle, traffic should be lower.

Vancouver's container imports are generally thought to be less under pressure than at US ports, because Canada's distribution relies more heavily on railways and somewhat less on trucks than in the US. But after Los Angeles now Seattle has come under much pressure, and apparently pressure is also mounting for Vancouver but has not escalated so far.

Obviously nobody has a crystal glass to predict the future. Although not a major problem at the moment, it is possible that container ships will require more anchorage space at port and will displace more bulk carriers into our islands, or container ships may even start using these anchorages. Other factors in play are adverse weather that can cause further delays in the transport and loading of bulk commodities.
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COP 26: Need to Resolve the Anchorage Problem

The nations' leaders are meeting at COP26 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. How can Canada meet its targets?

Perhaps here is a piece of good news. Resolving inefficiencies at port and resolving the anchorage problem would save thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases, at low cost without harming trade, and bring long-term economic benefits.

Did you know bulk carriers are the highest marine source of air pollution at the Port of Vancouver? Yet Transport Canada has allowed inefficiencies by drastically increasing the number of unproductive ships anchored in the Southern Gulf Islands.

Two-thirds of bulk carrier greenhouse gas emissions at the Port of Vancouver come from anchored ships using generators and boilers.Transport Canada needs to prevent unproductive idling and end parking spots in the Southern Gulf Islands.

Transport Canada announced better traffic management but has not committed to mandating just-in-time arrival for bulk carriers at the Port of Vancouver.
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How to Participate

Please write to the federal ministers that they can help Canada meet its emission targets by resolving the anchorage problem at the Port of Vancouver, and eliminate the need for unproductive idling of ships in the Southern Gulf Islands.

Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra:

Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault:
Thank you for support to keep the Gulf Islands protected and free from heavily industrialized use!