The prospect of increased oil tankers in Canadian waters raises the important question of Canada’s marine readiness and response. The  goal of marine safety management is to be strong at the prevention and protection phase so that we need never to get to the response and mitigation phase of pollution of an incident. The maritime response regime is an important pillar of Canada’s energy policy as former Minister David Emerson stated. In this first article in BC Shipping News states, we need to develop the mechanisms and dialogue to ensure we get this right — whether as part of the Asia-Pacific Gateway Initiative, or other shipping policy. The second article focuses on pollution response continues the discussion.

Our Readiness for Oil Tankers in Canadian Waters

Canada unlike some other coastal nations, has no pre-positioned dedicated response and salvage tugs such as is seen in Australia, Washington State or France. The Canadian regime is silent with respect to pollution salvage. The tanker safety record on the Alaskan route has been effective to date, save for the tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989 which spilled 67,000 tonnes of oil as a result of a grounding on Bligh Reef. Arguably, these new U.S.-flagged, double-hulled tankers have some of the most stringent safety requirements in the world and are subject to a joint cooperative Canada/U.S. Vessel Traffic Management system operated by the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guards both offshore and in the Salish Sea. Pacific North West Tanker Video

While all the attention in the public debate has focused on oil tankers in Canadian waters, it is important to realize is that many non-tanker vessels have a substantial amount of bunker fuel that can, if released in the marine environment, cause a great deal of damage. On the West Coast, we have over 13,000 foreign-flagged vessel movements each year of all types. This does not include pleasure vessels and Canadian-flagged commercial vessels or U.S. ships transiting the Inside Passage. Spills from non-tankers can have just as much of a major effect as tankers, especially if they occur in specific geographical areas during certain times of the year, for example around seabird colonies during the breeding season.