Sunday, May 19, 2024
May 19, 2024

Opinion: Should the Port of Vancouver be granted jurisdiction in islands?

BY CHRISTOPH ROHNER

Transport Canada is inviting public opinion via email (tc.anchorages-ancrages.tc@tc.gc.ca) by May 14 regarding the question of whether the Port of Vancouver should be given management of Southern Gulf Islands industrial anchorages. There are compelling reasons why this should not be allowed. 

The overflow parking here of ships from Vancouver (some 500 vessels in 2022, with the largest proportion by coal ships) has caused massive air pollution with greenhouse gas emissions, noise and light pollution, and damage to sensitive marine ecosystems. If the port authority had employed a vessel arrival system as used in ports elsewhere, the anchorages would be unnecessary. 

Some argue the proposed change will allow collection of fees for the use of these anchorages. The problem is that already some $30 million are paid annually as penalties for delayed loading and this has not changed the planning by commodity exporters.  Another problem is that charging user fees for specific anchorages may cement the rights of users instead of finding alternatives. A better solution for fees would be charging international ships coming to port for total turnaround time between entering and leaving the Salish Sea.

Is the proposed change a solution by bringing enforcement of a code of conduct for anchored ships? The problem is that existing codes of conduct have helped very little, for example because ships cannot simply turn off their generators. Possible improvements of codes require regulatory powers that are available only through Transport Canada.  Their current Interim Protocol could be adapted for enforcement and testing of more effective codes.

Rather than turn jurisdiction of sensitive Gulf Islands waters over to an industrial port authority, governments should honour their environmental mandates and work cooperatively toward elimination of the anchorages. This includes the province (which owns the seabed), Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Indigenous Services Canada.  A management plan for the National Marine Conservation Area Reserve for the Southern Gulf Islands, which the federal government has been working on for 20 years, is long overdue and would be a better alternative.

Further information is available at marineaffairs.ca, nofreighteranchorages.ca, and at Transport Canada’s website.

Christoph Rohner, PhD, is a Salt Spring resident with a background in environmental sciences.

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