The Saltair Ocean Protection Committee (SOPC) is now up and running.
February and March 2018 have seen an unprecedented number of freighters anchored in the Gulf Islands and close to our shores. This is due to an ‘Interim Protocol’ initiated by Transport Canada, having the mission to distribute anchorages in new ways throughout the Southern Gulf Islands area. A group of concerned Saltair residents has formed a committee to collect information about the impact these anchored freighters have to our coastal waters, wildlife habitats, and Saltair rural character.
Our goal is to provide accurate information to our community and advocate for the protection of Stuart Channel waters close to our shore. Our voice will join other residents in the Gulf Islands who have formed advocacy groups. Since 2010, Thetis Island, Cowichan Bay, Gabriola Island, and Pender Island have been advocating to pressure the Federal government to improve the management of anchorages and reduce the presence of commercial freighters in our sensitive ecosystems.
Saltair Freighter Anchorages
Nautical maps indicate the presence of 6 anchorages near our shoreline. These anchorages are inventoried by Vancouver Port and labeled: LSA, LSB, LSC, LSD, LSE, and LSF. LSA and LSB are located close to Ladysmith while LSF is near Chemainus.
Three anchorages (LSC, LSD, LSE) are right across Saltair Beach accesses, Davis Lagoon, and in very close proximity to our shore. In the past, BC Pilots and freighter Captains rarely used these anchorages. The new interim protocol aims at changing this. We will see more and more freighters in our coastal waters unless we voice our concerns. We have to send our complaints as soon as possible and before the end of the 6-month interim protocol (August 7, 2018).
Threats and Risks – Our Biggest Fear
If one of these freighters were to drag anchor and run aground, they will spill fuel and destroy our Saltair beaches, Davis Lagoon, and channel waters.
There is little safety oversight in the Stuart Channel, there is only ‘fair weather’ airplane surveillance, there is no actual safety checks in the local waters (these checks are mandatory in Ports). There is no local spill response team and no way to contain a spill in a timely manner.
In the past, Saltair anchorages were rarely used. The main reason is Saltair is the least preferred by ship’s agents, captains, and certified BC coast pilots. The long journey through narrow passages makes it more hazardous.
In addition, in windy conditions, a ship could start to drag anchor here with catastrophic consequences. The confined space of Stuart Channel does not allow much room for maneuvering away from the shore.
We do not want years of clean-up, lawsuits, and costs to tax payer
We must be reminded of the “New Carissa”, a dry bulk freighter similar to the ones that recently anchored in Saltair.
The ship was 195 meters (640 ft) long and anchored at 1.7 nautical miles (3 km) from shore. In Saltair, anchorages are much closer to the shore (.6 km) and some freighters anchored here in March were 225m long.
During a storm of February 1999, the “New Carissa”, dragged its anchor and ran aground on a beach in Oregon, its fuel tanks started to leak and spilled thousands gallons of fuel oil and diesel onto the beach and ocean waters. Finally, the vessel broke apart.
It took 10 years of clean up and lawsuits to obtain that the wreckage was finally removed (2008) and the beach restored.
Even though the Coast Guard determined the cause of the wreck was due to the Captain and officers’ mistake, the agent and insurer counter-sued the federal government for not advising the ship’s captain of safety issues with the anchoring in the area.
As a result the US federal government lost one lawsuit that cost $4 million to tax payers. On the state side, a settlement was reached that covered cleanup fees, however lawyer fees surpassed $3 million and it took 10 years to finally restore the area.
Risks to our Economy
When more freighters come to park (for free) in our local waters, some people believe the economy is booming, but this is not true. For example, this winter, poor management by CN Rail and at the Grain Terminals created scheduling issues and congestion in the Port. Seeing overflow freighters parking here does not mean more jobs for longshoremen and marine workers – it means the system is inefficient. If the Kinder Morgan pipeline is approved, there will be seven times more tankers coming to Vancouver Port. As well, the Frazer Surrey Docks refit means a huge increase in coal shipping vessel traffic. The interim protocol is anticipating this increase in traffic and has started to send more freighters our way to see our reaction.
Turning Saltair waters into a freighters parking lot means we risk losing local jobs within our local economy. Sports fishing, crabbing, and oyster farms rely on the healthy biodiversity of our coastal waters. Fish habitats are fragile. There is a risk to the environment. Having more invasive species introduced by these international freighters that come to park in Saltair waters will put more pressure on these habitats.
Our local communities have been diversifying industry to create new jobs in recreational activities such as pleasure boating, marina expansion, bird and wildlife watching, kayaking tours, and paddle board rentals, bed and breakfasts, cottage rentals, beach access structures, etc. People enjoy our local rural area for its tranquility and beauty. The disturbance, the light and sound pollution brought by these freighters destroys our recreational resources.
Also an important factor, our local real estate market is influenced by the desirability of our properties. The presence of freighters in the Stuart Channel reduces the appeal and resale value of our homes. Real estate is an important economic component of our local industry. New construction relies on the desirability of our rural and coastal area, which will be reduced by the influx of freighters idling day and night. When property values tank, residents are always impacted.
Freighters do not pay moorage fees when they are parked in our Saltair anchorages. Yet we take all the risks.
Risks to our Environment: Wildlife Protection
Freighters that are re-routed to Saltair anchorages take a complicated route through the Gulf Islands and the increased traffic created by such large vessels produces under water noise and disturbances that are major threats for Orcas. We need to reduce disturbance from vessels to save endangered Orcas.
Environment Canada has developed regulations under the B.C. Wildlife Act to protect species at risk. For example, Blue herons are at risk and legally protected. The guideline provided in “Develop with Care 2014: Environmental Guidelines for Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia.” Indicates that 200 m in rural areas with an additional 200 meter ‘no disturbance’ buffer is recommended during the nesting season (between January 15 and September 15).
Two freighters that recently anchored in the anchorages LSD and LSC were close to our shore – less than 400m to shore – and were susceptible to harm these protected birds.
The interim protocol initiated by Transport Canada has no mention of wildlife protection.
There is no indication that Transport Canada will work in collaboration with Oceans and Fisheries and Environment Canada to include wildlife protection for the future selection and use of anchoring locations outside of ports.
Call for Action
Transport Canada is trying to ascertain which communities they can send more freighters to park, and, which communities are the most vocal in rejecting becoming a free parking lot.
We must be vocal and advocate to make sure our coastal waters do not become a free parking lot for Vancouver Port freighters.
What you can do
Call and complain about the disturbance created by anchored freighters to Vancouver Port and Transport Canada Interim Protocol. If you have not done so when freighters were parked here early in March, it is not too late, call and email now!
The more complaints, the better, they are tracking them all. Disturbance to wildlife, beaches tranquility, fishing, and any other negative impact to our local environment and quality of life. Contact info for complaints:
Vancouver Port authority:
- Tel: 604.665.9086. Phone is for emergency only. For complaints, we have been instructed to contact Vancouver Port by email – as per Vija report #1.
- Email: harbour_master [at] portvancouver [dot] com
Transport Canada Interim Protocol:
- OPP Project Manager: Vija Poruks
- Tel: 604-666-2387
- Email: vija [dot] poruks [at] tc [dot] gc [dot] ca/
How to contribute to the SOPC committee
- Post photos of wildlife, protected birds, and other endangered species and note Heron nesting areas, share data.
- Educate people around you and raise awareness about Saltair anchorages
The SOPC committee can be contacted at:
saltair [dot] anchorage [at] gmail [dot] com
Current Government Programs and Plans
Other Gulf Island Advocacy Groups
We are not alone. Other groups in the Gulf Island were created, some since 2010. We are trailing behind and need to catch up to make sure Transport Canada knows where we stand. See the links:
Thetis Anchorage Concern (Islands trust Website)
Anchorages Concern Thetis
Gabriola Against Freighters
Cowichan Bay Ship Watch Society
Pender-based Plumper Sound Protection Association (PSPA) through Islands Trust
Georgia Strait alliance