Shipping advocates say Transport Canada needs to get up to speed on anchorage issues

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, September 25 2019

The anchorages, ball and chain, are firmly in the court of the Federal Government - as far as the BC Chamber of Shipping is concerned.

That according to Robert Lewis-Manning, President of the Chamber of Shipping.

Lewis-Manning was willing to speak to the Sounder, saying that local residents of the southern gulf islands are much better informed and more willing to have discussions about the issue than Transport Canada (TC) is.

“I think there were valid concerns by citizens, largely on Gabriola, concerns from industry, on an issue that from a business perspective wasn’t getting attention.”

He said there is no intent from the Chamber of Shipping to progress with the original proposal of five new anchorages off the northeast shore of Gabriola.

“However, there is absolutely an understanding there will be a requirement for a certain number of anchorages, properly managed, properly with regulation. That part has not gone away.”

The issue now is getting Transport Canada to come up with a plan past the Interim Anchorage Protocol - which TC is looking at extending.

“The waterways have to be managed. The logical next step is managing anchorages - and the ships that use them - in a way that is responsible.”

He said what is needed is deliberate forecasting based on social concerns and trade concerns. Lewis-Manning said he didn’t want to get too prescriptive in his description of what regulation might look like, because that has to come from the residents of the southern gulf islands and from industry. But it needs the Federal Government to step forward and actually have that discussion.

“The outcome of that process would probably determine what the right regulations are and what the fees are. What are the right tools that need to be brought, in terms of capabilities - monitoring, management, research, prototypes, mooring buoys, all of those pieces, and what I would say is schedule management. In a process that is likely managed by some sort of federal agency.”

Asked who the right agency might be to manage that, Lewis-Manning said the Canadian Coast Guard is the most logical - it already is an arm of the Federal Government, and has a 24/7 capability that is already robust.

And what about the ships that “anchor” for free in Canadian waters?

Lewis-Manning said, “lets clarify a fact - every ship that anchors anywhere in Canada has a contracted cargo. Ships coming here have a commercial agreement already. I think quite rightly - there’s been observations by community associations - that some [ships] stay for shorter periods of time, and some for longer. There are a lot of factors including how the commercial agreement has been constructed, and efficiencies and inefficiencies in the supply chain. Enough product has to come to the coast to fill the vessel.”

Most of the ships anchoring in the gulf islands are not container ships. They are bulk carriers which are waiting to be loaded with grain, or other bulk goods, to then ship overseas. Which means rail has to bring those goods to the coast to be loaded on the ships - and the railways are already over-strained in keeping goods moving west.

Lewis-Manning said that as the ships have increased in size over time, “that means you have to bring more of the same product at the same time for a single vessel.

“A commercial environment will adapt to the regulatory environment. Generally.”

 

The Anastasia, a bulk carrier, anchored off Valdes Island on September 19, 2019. Derek Kilbourn photo. 

 

Lewis-Manning said said in that actuality, it is very costly to anchor in the southern gulf islands because of the long transit up to the anchorages and then back south and over to the Port of Vancouver. “I can say that every operator would prefer to be located closer to the terminal they are picking up from. That’s the ultimate goal, to shorten the distance to be closer to terminals in the Fraser and in Burrard Inlet.”

And anchorages for the bulk carriers are hard to come by in BC. Lewis-Manning said “anchorage areas have to provide the right shelter, have the right depth, and a lot of places in BC are too deep.

“The area that is in English Bay has a high utilization - there might be a possibility for a few more anchorages in the area, but not a lot. That’s part of the equation.”

Critics of the anchorages have pointed to the damage that is being done to the sea floor as every new ship that uses a designated anchorage has to drop its own anchor and drag the chain along the sea floor. Lewis-Manning said that DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) has said mooring buoys would be preferred to ships dropping their own anchors at the designated anchorages.

But, he said, mooring buoys aren’t used for large bulk carriers.

“They are used for oil tankers. When we talk about mooring buoys, we’re at the point of needing to do initial research or a study to see if there’s a technical feasibility for that. I don’t want to give an impression to say a buoy could be installed anywhere, it’s actually a complex issue.”

Lewis-Manning said that to be frank, he doesn’t think the anchorage discussion has happened in a constructive way yet, “which is a frustration for those community associations.

“I think that’s a big challenge for this issue which is very passionate to a small geographical area. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the industry and [community] associations are frustrated with the pace and lack of resources put into this issue.”

Earlier this year, Lewis-Manning wrote to Marc-Yves Bertin, Transport Canada’s Director General of Marine Policy, saying Chamber members, “are deeply concerned with the slow pace of the national review of anchorages particularly in view of additional grain and coal export facilities commencing operations in the Port of Vancouver from spring 2020.

“Aside from the collection of monthly statistical data, we have not seen any progress in identifying the elements of a national framework that must support expanding trade and minimizing the impacts on the environment and local coastal communities.”

In his letter, he reiterates for Transport Canada what the Chamber sees as being the priorities for that review.

1. Developing a process for establishing new anchorages;

2. Forecasting the demand for anchorages in the next 10 years;

3. Engaging other government departments and agencies to assess impacts and plans for changes in service delivery;

4. Developing a management plan and monitoring regime for existing anchorages outside the boundaries of port authorities;

5. Conducting a review of potential new anchorage sites, which could be included in a sub-regional management and monitoring framework;

6. Considering the synergies of the National Anchorage Review and the Ports Modernization Review, especially aspects related to the coordination of anchorages by ports governed by the Canada Marine Act. The letter to Director Bertin was cc’d to Robert Dick, Assistant Deputy Minister Pacific Region, Transport Canada, as well as to representatives with the Oceans Protection Plan, Parks Canada, the Nanaimo Port Authority, and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

Lewis-Manning said the Chamber has been playing a “major role in trying to connect the federal agencies on this file, because none of it can happen in isolation and, in government, there’s a risk of different departments not being able to communicate effectively.

“That’s not a negative comment, just a part of the reality. We’re trying to connect the dots as much as possible.”

He said he also includes community organizations like GAFA (Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages), in the correspondence because they, more than anyone, have an idea of the issue and the concerns around it, including the concerns of the industry.

“The community stakeholders understood this better than the Federal Government did. I think it’s taken the government time to understand what the commercial relationships are. That’s not something they easily understand. The learning curve has been the highest for Federal Government officials, and I think that’s why we’ve seen the delay.”

When it comes to people saying that there’s no value in the ships staying at anchor, Lewis-Manning said, “I would caution this is probably Canada’s biggest export gateway - so those ships waiting are part of a supply chain and an export market that stretches from Manitoba westward. Eighteen months ago - when there was some real congestion - the impacts were very, very local. There’s a lot of connections within that supply chain...it’s the lack of forecasting and events planning that has been our concern from day one.”

By being able to better forecast the need for ships and when the cargos will arrive in port, Lewis-Manning says industry could better develop plans to minimize impact on coastal communities and maximize trade.

“We need the federal departments to get on board with that kind of planning.”

He said this summer saw some really amazing weather and fluidity - the need for the anchorages has gone down.

Some of the work has started during the interim period and, as Lewis-Manning said, there has been a supply chain visibility study, and he believes they are at the point where they can build a forecasting model. “If you understand what the demand looks like - the growth is well understood - we should be able to figure out what the requirement is, what the reasonable requirement is, and mitigate the impacts from that. I’d love to see that happen in the 12 months after the federal election - that would be a good outcome.”