One year in, Anchorage Protocol brings little relief to communities

Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages

Press Release

Wednesday, March 20 2019

On February 8, 2018, Transport Canada announced a temporary plan to address complaints about cargo ships anchoring throughout the Southern Gulf Islands. The Interim Protocol was launched to bring some order to what was otherwise a free for all for ships choosing where to park in advance of going to berths in the Vancouver Port. 

At the time, Transport Canada acknowledged they currently have limited authority to regulate shipping activity, such as anchoring, outside federal port boundaries.

The Protocol was to last six months, but has now been in place for over a year and the results, according to many, are disappointing. 

Before the Interim Protocol, ships arriving ahead of their loading date at a Vancouver berth, got local shipping agents to choose whatever site in the Southern Gulf Islands (SGI) they wanted. The ships anchored for free, with no time limit. Under the new plan ships are assigned an SGI anchorage based on an algorithm designed to evenly spread anchorage use around. Theoretically no one anchorage would see more use than any other. 

Here’s the problem: Before the Interim Protocol, communities like Ladysmith, Saltair, Salt Spring and Gabriola, saw limited anchoring along their shores. Once it was enacted, huge cargo ships began arriving at a rate never seen before. Meanwhile, in Plumper Sound, Trincomali Channel, and Cowichan Bay, where frequent anchoring was already occurring, there was no significant decrease. The new protocol didn’t address the fact that delays in the supply chain and a lack of limits on how early ships can arrive, meant the overall volume of ships in the region was steadily rising. The plan was to spread the pain around but the amount of pain keeps growing.

The Interim Protocol also asks ships to minimize noise and light levels in consideration of local residents. This has also led to frustration. Bulk freighters require generators 24/7 to keep bunker fuel circulating and to run onboard equipment. There is little they can do to reduce noise. Bright lighting systems are required for navigational and other safety reasons. Again, little can be done.

Transport Canada also claims the Interim Protocol provides important research into shipping activity. Researchers produce detailed pie charts and data tables describing where ships anchor, type of cargo, etc., all to inform decisions about how anchoring will be managed in future.

It remains to be seen if this research will get at the root causes behind issues like early arrivals, long wait times and supply-chain bottle necks.

The departure of three key Transport Canada officials at the end of February has also pushed timelines back further and there is speculation that nothing substantial will be announced about the anchorage issue until after a fall election. 

“It’s very frustrating” says GAFA President Chris Straw. “Nothing the federal government has done so far is improving things for coastal communities. We’re more than a year into this Interim Protocol, and the number of ships coming to anchor continues to grow, as does the number of days they’re allowed to park here for free. That means more anchor chains scouring the local sea bed, more carbon emissions dumped into our local air shed, more risk of a fuel spill, and more lights and noise, disrupting local residents and marine life. …and none of this is adding anything to the Canadian economy. 

“We worry the Interim Protocol is simply a smoke screen to make it seem as though something is being done.”

GAFA is hosting a town hall update on anchorages on Saturday March 23rd at 2pm at the Community Hall.