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BC Politics

‘We’re Not Going to See Tankers in Active Pass Ever Again’

Advocates celebrate after officials publicly ban tankers carrying dangerous cargo in the narrow passage.

Michelle Gamage 2 Jun

Michelle Gamage is a Vancouver-based journalist with an environmental focus who regularly reports on climate for The Tyee. You can find her on Twitter @Michelle_Gamage.

Tankers of all sizes have been banned from travelling through Active Pass, a narrow stretch of water between Mayne and Galiano islands, following a public outcry and Tyee reporting.

The Pacific Pilotage Authority, a federal Crown corporation, issued the ban following a Tyee report that highlighted the lack of regulation on tankers transiting the narrow, busy waterway.

The interim ban covers ships carrying bulk oil, pollutants and hazardous cargo, and it stands until a risk assessment is completed for commercial vessels in Active Pass.

The Pacific Pilotage Authority told The Tyee it doesn’t yet know when it can do the risk assessment.

Most commercial ships travelling in B.C. coastal waters are required to use a pilot from the authority to ensure safety. The ban only covers ships piloted by the authority.

The document, known as a Notice to Industry, says ships 150 metres or smaller carrying non-pollutant cargo may still take Active Pass “when special circumstances and/or prevailing conditions warrant.” BC Ferries and pleasure craft can still take the waterway.

Marine oil spill expert Gerald Graham, who raised the alarm when a tanker travelled through Active Passage in April, said he was surprised but pleased that the authority issued the public document.

When The Tyee previously reported on the issue, we were told the authority would issue an internal document only.

Graham said a public document would be stronger so people can read it and hold a ship’s captain and owner accountable if they try to transit the pass.

This spring, Graham became a loud advocate for banning tanker traffic from Active Pass after he was sent a picture of the MV Kassos, a 102-metre-long oil tanker, transiting the pass. He estimates there were 41,513 barrels of oil on board.

There is no justifiable reason for an oil tanker of any size to take the riskier route instead of neighbouring Boundary Pass, which most commercial ships stick to, Graham said.

582px version of ActivePassMap.jpg
The arrows point to Active Pass, running between Galiano and Mayne Island. Boundary Pass is the much larger waterway that follows the marine border between the US and Canada. Image via Google Maps.

The Tyee was told by the Pacific Pilotage Authority that the pilot took the MV Kassos through Active Pass to ensure the pilot’s shift didn’t exceed eight hours, which is a safety regulation. Taking the pass saved two hours and kept the pilot’s shift within the allowable time.

Graham called on the authority to ban tankers from Active Pass because of the risks of colliding with a ferry in the narrow waterway and an oil spill. A 1970 crash between a ferry and a freighter in 1970 killed three passengers.

In May, Karen Wristen, executive director of the Canadian environmental organization Living Oceans Society, warned that a ban from the Pacific Pilotage Authority did not have legal authority and could only deter but not prohibit tankers. Only Transport Canada had the power to restrict tanker traffic, she added.

Transport Canada told The Tyee it was not considering adding additional safety measures to the route.

The news about tankers in Active Pass took off after The Tyee story was published. The story appeared in the International Spill Control Organization and Dogwood BC’s newsletters. MP Elizabeth May called the news “deeply shocking and totally unacceptable,” in a tweet. May’s riding, Saanich–Gulf Islands, includes Active Pass.

Graham said his one concern is whether the Pacific Pilotage Authority’s risk assessment will look for a reason to keep tankers out of the pass, or a reason to let them transit it. But for now, he’s celebrating success.

“From what I hear we’re not going to see tankers in Active Pass ever again,” Graham said. “We’re closing the door on it.”  [Tyee]

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