Kitimat’s unknown role in the First World War

Ninety-seven years ago, long before the townsite was founded in the 1950s,  Kitimat was to play a short, now forgotten and unlucky role in the First World War with the launch of a vessel in New Westminster called the  War Kitimat as one of the many emergency new ships commissioned by the British government to replace vessels lost to Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare that was sinking convoys taking vital supplies across the Atlantic.

(Note: The ship may not have been the Valley’s only role in the First World War. I have been told by Haisla members that it is believed that a couple of men from the Haisla Nation may have served in the armed forces during WWI. However, no one I have contacted, so far, has been able to confirm that information. If anyone can confirm, this story will be updated).

During the First World War, over nine million gross tons of British ships were lost due to enemy action, both submarines and surface raiders. The worst losses came in the three months ending June 1917 when over 1.4 million gross tons were sunk.

In December, 1916, the Prime Minister David  Lloyd George’s British Government appointed a “shipping controller” to manage a worldwide shipbuilding program to replace the lost vessels, to be built quickly, efficiently and to a series of standard designs. Although the vessels were often different, they were called “standard ships.” It was the Great War’s equivalent of the Liberty Ships built during the Second World War.

Many of the orders were placed with Canadian companies, others with the Japanese shipyards and British owned or controlled shipyards in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Canada created or contracted 19 emergency shipbuilders which built 137 cargo ships and 15 trawler/minesweepers. Some of these yards were purpose-built, others were repair yards that were converted to construction yards; seven were in BC, nine were in Ontario and Quebec, and three were in the Maritimes.

Orders were also placed with shipyards in the United States, but when the Americans entered the war in 1917, those ships were requisitioned by the U.S. Government.

All the ships’ names were given the prefix “War” no matter where they were built in the world.

The Canadians built both steel hulled and wooden hulled cargo vessels, including the War Kitimat, as well as yachts and sailing yachts (which likely became the war time “trawlers”). The British built 12 different types of “dry cargo” vessels, five types of “coasters” plus tankers.  The United States also built wooden hulled cargo vessels (slightly larger than the Canadian versions) and various types of steel hull cargo ships.

The government of France also contracted Canadian shipyards for its own vessel building program.

In Canada, the BC Marine Railway Company was one of the prime contractors, and the job of building four ships was awarded to the New Westminster Shipbuilding & Engineering on Poplar Island, which can be seen today from New West’s Esplanade at Westminster Quay.

The First Nations of the area had used the island for generations and in 1871 the island was designated an Indian Reserve. During the small pox epidemic of 1889, with many members of the Vancouver area First Nations struck down by the disease, a hospital was built on the island. It is believed that many of those who died of smallpox were buried there. Because of the association with disease and death the island was abandoned until 1917, when the war time necessity meant a shipyard was built on the island.

The War Kitimat under construction in New Westminster (Canadian War Museum)
The War Kitimat under construction in New Westminster (Canadian War Museum)

New Westminster Shipbuilding had the job of constructing four “war” class wooden hulled freighters, 2300 gross tonnes, 3300 dead weight tonnes, 250 feet long with a beam of 43.5 feet, with 322 nominal horse power triple reciprocating steam engines powered by two water tube boilers, turning a single screw capable of ten knots.

The company built four ships, the War Comox, War Edensaw, War Kitimat and War Ewen. The War Comox was first launched in April, 1918, but completion was held up as the shipyard waited for equipment from suppliers. That led to pressure to build, launch and complete the War Edensaw, which was launched in June 1918, and the War Kitimat, which was launched on  Sunday, August 18, 1918.

The War Kitimat immediately ran into trouble. According to the Times Colonist, right after launch the War Kitimat ran aground off New Westminster and had to be lifted off the Fraser  river bed by using jacks until was raised enough so that tugs could attach lines and tow it to deep water.  About a week later, the War Kitimat was  towed to Victoria for repairs and further fitting out (possibly to the Foundation Company shipyard which was also building five of the war class vessels. Foundation is now Seaspan’s Point Hope Marine)

The War Kitimat did make at least one voyage to Great Britain, but by the time it arrived, the war was coming to a close. After the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the ships were no longer needed and the British government sold most of them to shipping companies. (All the ships were UK registry, not Canadian)

Flag for Lloyd Belge line
Flag for Lloyd  RoyalBelge line

In 1919, the War Kitimat was sold to the Lloyd Royal Belge S.A. line of Antwerp, Belgium and renamed the Serbier.

On January 12, 1920, the Serbier, on a  voyage from Cartagena and Oran to Antwerp with zinc ore and general cargo on board, sprang a leak in her engine room during a “raging gale” in the Bay of Biscay and sank  80 nautical miles (150 km) off Penmarc’h, Finistère, France at 47°38′N 6°10′W. Her Capt. A. Canfrère and the crew were rescued by the French ship SS Docteur Pierre Benoit.

How the ship came to be named War Kitimat isn’t certain. It was probably named after the Kitimat River since other vessels in the War category were named Skeena, Stikine, Babine, Niagara, Ottawa (others were named for cities like Halifax or Toronto).

The Belgian shipping company did not give up on the name Serbier. It purchased another US-built War cargo ship, first named the War Hound by the British. After the US entered WWI in 1917 and took over the building there it became the Lake Huron, a US Navy Transportation Service mine carrier. From later in 1920, Royal Belge operated the new Serbier until 1924, when it passed through French, Norwegian, Danish and then as the Advance,  Finnish ownership. The Advance was seized in Panama by the United States in 1941 and renamed the Trojan. After the Second World War, the US returned the ship to Finland. It sailed as the Advance until it was sold a Greek shipping company in 1965 and scrapped at Piraeus in 1966.

Of the ships under British control, 821 ships were ordered by the UK shipping board and 416 were completed. Fourteen were lost to enemy action. The remaining orders were cancelled but often completed by the shipyards.

Many of the “war” or “standard” ships passed through various owners.

During the Second World War many played their original role and took part in the convoys that crossed the Atlantic.  Many were sunk during those crossings. Others, sold to growing Japanese shipping interests in the 1920s and 1930s, were sunk by US destroyers and submarines. Others like the War Hound /Serbier survived to the 1950s and 1960s.

Of the War Kitimat’s sister ships built in New Westminster, the War Comox was sold to an Italian company, renamed the Guidatta and scrapped at Genoa in 1925, The War Ewen was sold to a German company, renamed the Etienne Marcel and scrapped in Germany in 1925. The War Edensaw, under the original name, was carrying Admiralty stores from Constantinople to Malta,  when it caught fire on June 25, 1919 and sank 94 nautical miles east of the St. Elmo Lighthouse on Malta.

As for Poplar Island, it was zoned for industrial use but no one could come up with ideas for how to use the island.   New Westminster sold the island to Rayonier Canada in 1945, where it became an anchorage for log booms on the Fraser River. The successor company, Western Forest Products sold it back to New Westminster in 1995,  The island is still a wilderness area in the middle of urban Vancouver and subject to treaty and land claims negotiations with the area’s First Nations.

Related links
Poplar Island: A History as Thick and Colorful as the Trees

Emergency Shipbuilders of World War I

World War One Standard Built Ships

World War One Standard Built Ships (this is a different site to the one above)

Vessels Built by B.C. Marine Railway Co

The Ship’s List (database of ships, link is to Lloyd Royal Belege entry)

 

Editor’s Note:   Up until now Kitimat has not had a reason, unlike other communities, to mark Canada’s role in the First World War.  We suggest that should the District of Kitimat choose to do so either this year or in the next three years, August 18, the date of the launch of the War Kitimat might be an appropriate date, in addition to Remembrance Day on November 11.

Canadian, US Coast Guards to exercise with Alaska emergency ship towing system

The United States Coast Guard says the US and Canadian Coast Guards will “conduct a towing evolution using a State of Alaska Emergency Towing System” on Friday afternoon off Juneau, Alaska.

The participating vessels are the Canadian Coast Guard  Marine Service Vessel and  Ice Strengthened Medium Navaids Tender CCGS Bartlett and the US Coast Guard cutter USGC Maple.  Like the Barlett, the Maple is also a buoy tender.

CCGS Barlett (Canadian Coast Guard)
CCGS Barlett (Canadian Coast Guard)

In 2014, when the Russian vessel Simushir was adrift off Haida Gwaii, the towing system on the Canadian Coast Guard’s Gordon Reid was inadequate and the line snapped.  A commercial tug was hired to take the Simushir into port at Prince Rupert.   As Northwest Coast Energy News reported in October, 2014, the US Coast Guard deployed the Alaska Towing System to Haida Gwaii but it wasn’t used at that time despite a record of success by the US Coast Guard in towing vessels off Alaska waters.

Related:

When the Simushir was adrift,  Alaska was ready, BC and Canada were not

On the Simushir, Oceans Minister Shea takes ministerial responsibility to a new low, the bottom of the sea

 

 

 

 

When the Simushir was adrift, Alaska was ready, BC and Canada were not. Here’s why

When the Russian container ship Simushir lost power in heavy weather west of Haida Gwaii last Thursday and driven by westerly winds came dangerously close to the rocky coast, Canada and British Columbia had to scramble to get vessels to the ship and try to tow it out of danger to Prince Rupert.

Like all other issues on the west coast, the debate is raging.

Simushir
The Simushir tied up at the Ridley Island container port. (Prince Rupert Port Authority)

“Peter Lantin, president of the Haida Nation, told the media at the time, “It was luck.” On Tuesday, Lantin issued another statement, saying. ““Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone considers 20 hours a world class response time. The fact of the matter is that the federal government has little interest in protecting the west coast. From all indications their policy is to calculate an oil spill as an acceptable loss, based on a business model, not on the reality that coastal British Columbians live every day.”

It appears that the Simushir operation was lucky. The normal westerly winds that could have driven the ship onto the rocks of Haida Gwaii changed to southeasterly, keeping the Simushir off shore.

The American heavy duty tug  Barbara Foss just happened to be available. The Barbara Foss was towing a cargo barge between Prince Rupert and Whittier, Alaska. The barge was left in Prince Rupert and the tug headed out off the coast of Haida Gwaii a trip that took about 48 hours. (There are also  heavy duty Smit tugs at Prince Rupert which joined the operation on Hecate Strait to escort the Simushir into port.  There are now reports that the Simushir‘s owners chose to hire the Barbara Foss rather than Smit)

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Gordon Reid tows the Simushir away from the coast of Haida Gwaii.  (Maritime Forces Pacific)
The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Gordon Reid tows the Simushir away from the coast of Haida Gwaii. (Maritime Forces Pacific)

It took the first Canadian Coast Guard vessel, the Gordon Reid, about 14 hours to reach the Simushir (according to Coast Guard officials the original report of 20 hours was wrong). The Gordon Reid did manage to get lines on the Simushir and pull the ship away from the coast, only have the tow lines part (break) three times. So the three Coast Guard vessels, two from Canada, the Gordon Reid and the Sir Wilfred Laurier and the US Coast Guard cutter Spar had to wait for the Barbara Foss to arrive.

Jonathan Whitworth, CEO of Seaspan, speaking to Mark Hume of The Globe and Mail,  “it was just bad luck” that none of the tugs that regularly work up and down the west coast were  available at the time.

Whitworth told The Globe and Mail that there are about 80 boats between Alaska and Vancouver that could have towed the Simushir to safety. He said that the fact there were no tugs in the immediate vicinity as a “fluke.”

“We certainly have large tugs operating in Haida Gwaii on log barges, for example. So it will be a 6,000-horsepower tug that would [typically] be in that area. It just so happened that over the weekend our two biggest tugs which transit that area were down south,” Whitworth told The Globe and Mail.

Whitworth said that permanently stationing tugs at Haida Gwaii would be both be unnecessary and too expensive.“If there had been a tug stationed in Haida Gwaii then it could have responded possibly quicker. But who’s going to pay for that?  Surprisingly from a tug owner it’s not going to be [my view] that there should be a tug every 50 metres up the coast.”

Effective response

In a news release, Rear Admiral Dan Abel, commanding the US Coast Guard 17th District, Alaska said.

“The trusted partnership we have with our Canadian counterparts continues to be a vital component to protecting lives at sea and mitigating potential maritime emergencies. We are pleased this case ended with a positive outcome; preparing for the worst case scenario is the first step in an effective prevention and response plan.”

The question now being asked up and down the BC coast has the provincial or federal governments really have an effective prevention and response plan? If the BC coast had trouble handling a container ship in trouble, how is it ever going to handle a Very Large Crude Carrier loaded with diluted bitumen?

According to the US Coast Guard, although the Simushir was adrift off the coast of Haida Gwaii, the incident triggered Alaska’s emergency response plan. “Coast Guard Sector Juneau deployed six members, including the sector’s commander, to Ketchikan to establish the foundation for a unified command and to exercise their sub area contingency plan with state and local partners.”

Key to Alaska’s response, is a system ready to go soon after a distress call is received. The Emergency Towing System (ETS) has prepackaged equipment that can be transferred to a disabled vessel either by helicopter or tug, depending on the size and position of the vessel in distress.

US Coast Guard C-130 Hercules and Skyhawk helicopter on standby at Sandspit airport.  The Hercules carried  one of Alaska's Emergency Towing Systems in case it was needed.  (US Coast Guard)
US Coast Guard C-130 Hercules and Skyhawk helicopter on standby at Sandspit airport. The Hercules carried one of Alaska’s Emergency Towing Systems in case it was needed. (US Coast Guard)

The United States Coast Guard deployed two of its Emergency Towing Systems last week to support the Simushir operation, one on a C-130 Hercules dispatched to Sandspit, the second on board the cutter Spar.

While the Alaska ETS systems were not used in the Simushir incident, how Alaska came up with the system is a lesson for British Columbia, for that state-wide program was started by the tiny municipality of Unalaska after a ship quite similar to the Simushir lost power and came within 15 minutes of running aground in Unalaska Bay.

Now just seven years later those Emergency Towing System packages are pre-positioned up and down the Alaska coast, while although Enbridge proposed the Northern Gateway in 2005, here in Canada both the provincial and federal governments make paper promises about a “world class” response system but so far nothing has happened.

Salica Frigo

Salica Frigo
Salica Frigo photographed in 2006 (Clipper/Wikipedia Commons)

The Salica Frigo incident in March 2007 was similar to the Simushir incident and like the Simushir, there was luck involved.

According to an Associated Press report at the time, quoting 2005 figures, Dutch Harbor and Unalaska was, for the 17th straight year,  the United States leading fishing port for seafood landings in poundage. Commercial fishermen offloaded 887.6 million pounds of fish and shellfish in 2005. The value of its catch, $166.1 million, was second to New Bedford, Mass.

About three years earlier, another ship, the 225 metre (738-foot) Selandang Ayu experienced engine problems, shut off its engines, drifted and ran aground Dec. 9, 2004, in Skan Bay on Unalaska Island’s west side.

Six crewmen died when a US Coast Guard helicopter trying to rescue them crashed. The Selandang Ayu broke in two and spilled an estimated 321,000 gallons of fuel oil, contaminating 54 kilometres (34 miles) of coastline. AP reported that at the time of the Salica Frigo incident in 2007, the cleanup for the Selandang Ayu was more than $100 million.

The Salica Frigo was 135 metre (443 foot) Spanish-flagged ship, the same size as the Simushir.

On Thursday, March 8, 2007, the Salica Frigo was partially loaded with seafood and tied up at dock in Captain’s Bay in Dutch Harbor, Alaska Winds were from the north, from 30 to 40 knots gusting to 60 to 70 knots. The winds began to drive the Salica Frigo away from the dock and the local marine pilot, Capt. Stephen Moreno, consulting with the captain, ordered the ship to sea to ride out the winds. “He really didn’t have enough ground tackle to safely anchor,” Moreno told the AP.

The AP report says Moreno guided the Salica Frigo out to sea, plotted a safe course and then the pilot returned to port. At about, 3 am on March 9, the engine failed. It was not until an hour later, at 4 am, according to KIAL News the Salica Frigo’s captain called the marine pilots and the Coast Guard.  North winds were blowing the ship back toward the harbor.

“If it had been from the south, he would have blown offshore,” Moreno told the AP.

The powerless ship drifted for more than three and a half hours toward the shore. Two tugboats came to the ship’s aid but could not establish lines to the stricken vessel.

Moreno and Coast Guard officials estimate the Salica Frigo was just 15 minutes from grounding when crew members were able to restart the engine at 6:43 a.m.

Emergency Towing System

Just weeks later, the Mayor of Unalaska,  Shirley Marquardt created and convened a “Disabled Vessel Workgroup” that was tasked with developing a “an emergency towing capability for disabled vessels in the Aleutians using locally available tugboats and an emergency towing system.”

For a demonstration project from July 20 to August 1, 2007, Unalaska had put together and purchased a system suitable for vessels up to 50,000 dead weight tons (DWT) while the state, the the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation was planning to purchase a system capable of towing vessel greater than 50,000 DWT.

The two types of Emergency Towing System packages are  pictured in the operations manual. (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)
The two types of Emergency Towing System packages are pictured in the operations manual. (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)

In a news release (pdf) at the time of the exercise, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said

In the last decade, several distressed or stricken vessels in the Aleutian Islands have adversely impacted the community of Unalaska. In a few cases, these incidents were the cause of environmental and economic repercussions.

In each situation, the vessel was a large tramper or cargo type ship, generally carrying fuel in bottom tanks, thus posing a significant pollution risk. Roughly 67% of port calls to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor in 2004 were either container ships or tramper/reefer vessels.

“These accidents can be devastating to Alaska’s environment and communities. Our goal is to enhance the ability of local assets to respond to distressed vessels in need of assistance due to engine failure,rudder failure, or any other failure which compromises the safe navigation of a vessel,” said DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig.

Tugs not always ready

ETS on tug
The Emergency Towing System deployed on a tug. (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)

The other point in the 2007 ADEC news release is a note that tugs are not always equipped for operations such the one involving the Simushir

Generally tug boats (primary responders in this area) have some capability of retrieving vessels but they are not dedicated to this service and therefore the equipment aboard is not representative of equipment needs in this highly specialized situation. The recommended emergency towing system
will enhance local assets with the ability to respond to an emergency with all the proper equipment necessary to retrieve a distressed vessel.

The Unalaska resident tugs Gyrfalcon and James Dunlap are the most consistent local assets in the Unalaska region, but there are many other tugs in the area at any one time and thus this system is intended to be universally deployable.

The demonstration project, a partnership between the town, the state, the Coast Guard and the private sector was successful.

ETS and helicopters
US Coast Guard helicopters deploy the Emergency Towing System (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)

In 2014, the Alaska Emergency Towing System project official website  says

An Emergency Towing System (ETS) is a pre-staged package of equipment that may be deployed in the event a disabled vessel requires assistance in accessing a place of refuge. A manual that instructs responders on the operations of system as well as procedures for deployment accompanies the system. The system is designed to use vessels of opportunity to assist disabled vessels that are in Alaskan waters. It consists of a lightweight high performance towline, a messenger line used in deploying the towline, a lighted buoy, and chafing gear. These components may be configured to deploy to a disabled ship from the stern of a tugboat or airdropped to the ship’s deck via helicopter.

In December 2010, Unalaska’s plan worked, the town’s ETS system was deployed to assist the disable cargo vessel Golden Seas. “This equipment, along with the availability of an appropriate sized towing vessel helped avert a possible grounding.” the ETS website says.

Since 2007, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has purchased and stored 10 inch Emergency Towing Systems at the USCG Air Station in Kodiak and Sitka, the Navy Supervisor of Salvage warehouse at Fort Richardson, and the Emergency Response warehouse in Adak, Alaska.

Alaska map
Map shows where the Emergency Towing System is deployed across Alaska/. (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)

The Emergency Towing System can be deployed by helicopter or by tug.  A helicopter can lower the tote or cage containing the towing gear onto the deck of the distressed ship. If the tote or cage is carried to the scene by a tug the crew the usual procedure is to use a helicopter to deploy the tote/cage to the distressed vessel or the tug crew. Depending on the circumstances, and although it is not part of the regular system, the tug crew can also line-gun projectile across the deck of the distressed ship so the crew can pull a “messenger line” attached to the tow line on board.

And as for Canada, Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, answering questions in the Commons Monday about the Simushir incident did nothing more than speak off a prepared script, answering two questions from Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley and from Joyce Murray, Liberal MP from Vancouver Quadra, she said future operations were the responsibility of the private sector,

The Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters in very rough weather. The private sector provides towing service to the marine industry.
We are grateful that the Canadian Coast Guard was able to keep the situation under control in very difficult conditions until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.

Whitworth told the Globe that with increased tanker traffic whether LNG or bitumen, the number of tugs on the coast will increase, a point also made by supporters of the various projects.

But without a real commitment from the government for marine safety on the west coast, it is clear, even with the prospect of Very Large Crude Carriers with bitumen or Liquefied Natural Gas tankers plying the coast, the Harper Government considers marine safety nothing more than a case of a paper ship upon a paper ocean.

With such indifference, it is likely that local communities up and down the British Columbia coast will have to follow the example of the small town of Unalaska, population  4,376 in 2010 and create the northwest coast’s own emergency system.

Editorial: On the Simushir, Oceans Minister Gail Shea takes ministerial responsibility to a new low—the bottom of the sea

On Monday, October 20, 2014, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, stood in the House of Commons during Question Period and proved she is not up for the job.

Answering questions from  Opposition MPs about the incident of the Russian container ship, Simushir, which drifted dangerously close to the coast of Haida Gwaii, Shea got up and read a prepared script, a script with answers which ignored centuries of the laws and custom of the sea, as well as Canada’s own laws and treaty obligations, answers probably written by what are now known as “the kids in short pants” in the Prime Minister’s Office.

There was a time in this country when some ministers of the Crown took their responsibilities seriously. That idea that has decayed over the years and now has been gutted by the adminstration of Stephen Harper. As Ottawa pundits have noted recently, only a small handful of cabinet ministers in the Harper government have any real responsibility and only those  are permitted to answer questions by themselves in the Commons. According to most Ottawa insiders, the less important ministers, like Shea, are basically told what to do by the prime minister’s office.

Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, visited the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Leonard J. Cowley on Friday, December 6,  2013, to examine the fast rescue craft launching mechanism for offshore fishery patrols with Regional Director, Fleet, Stephen Decker and Captain Kerry Evely, Commanding Officer. The Cowley conducts fisheries patrols and monitors fishing activities under Canada's commitment to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. (DFO)
Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, visited the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Leonard J. Cowley on Friday, December 6, 2013, to examine the fast rescue craft launching mechanism for offshore fishery patrols with Regional Director, Fleet, Stephen Decker and Captain Kerry Evely, Commanding Officer. The Cowley conducts fisheries patrols and monitors fishing activities under Canada’s commitment to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. (DFO)

If the House of Commons under Harper could fall any lower, Shea’s attitude (or more likely the PMO’s attitude)  on ship and coastal safety takes the Commons and ministerial responsibility to a new low—the bottom of the sea.

Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley, who represents Haida Gwaii first asked. “Mr. Speaker, on Friday, a Russian ship carrying more than 500 million litres of bunker fuel lost all power just off the coast of Haida Gwaii.The Canadian Coast Guard vessel, the Gordon Reid, was hundreds of kilometres away, and it took almost 20 hours for it to reach the drifting ship. Thankfully, favourable winds helped keep the ship from running aground, and a private American tugboat eventually towed it to shore. Is the minister comfortable with a marine safety plan that is based on a U.S. tugboat and blind luck in order to keep B.C.’s coast safe?”

Shea responded.

“Mr. Speaker, luck had nothing to do with the situation.  The Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters in very rough weather. The private sector provides towing service to the marine industry. We are grateful that the Canadian Coast Guard was able to keep the situation under control in very difficult conditions until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.”

Cullen tried again:

“Mr. Speaker, if the government really wanted to show its gratitude to the Canadian Coast Guard maybe it would not have cut $20 million and 300 personnel from its budget. Even after the Gordon Reid arrived, its tow cable snapped three times. The Russian ship was only about a third as big as the huge supertankers that northern gateway would bring to the very same waters off the west coast. How can Conservatives, especially B.C. Conservatives, back their government’s plan to put hundreds of oil supertankers off the B.C. coast when we do not even have the capacity to protect ourselves right now?”

Shea replied: “Mr. Speaker, this Russian ship lost power outside of Canadian waters. The Canadian Coast Guard responded and kept the situation under control, under very difficult conditions, until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.

We as a government have committed $6.8 billion through the renewal of the Coast Guard fleet, which demonstrates our support for the safety and security of our marine industries and for our environment.”

Related Link: Canadian Coast Guard Mid-Shore Patrol Vessel program

Next to try was Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay from Cardigan.

“Mr. Speaker, the Russian container ship that drifted off the west coast raises serious concerns about the response capability of the Canadian Coast Guard. This serious situation was only under control when a U.S. tugboat arrived.”

Again Shea read her script: “This Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters.  On the west coast, the private sector provides towing services to the marine industry.’

The final attempt by Liberal Joyce Murray, from Vancouver Quadra, also led to a scripted answer. “ this was a private towing vessel that came to tow the vessel that was in trouble.”

Shea’s answers, especially her repeated reference to “territorial waters” set off a series of “What the…?” posts on Twitter from west coast mariners and sailors, wondering if Shea knew anything about maritime law.

The first question one must ask was Shea actually not telling the whole truth to the House of Commons (which is forbidden by House rules) when she said the Simushir was outside Canadian waters? The Haida Nation, in a news release, (pdf) says the Simushir was “drifting about 12 Nautical Miles North West of Gowgaia Bay located off Moresby Island off Haida Gwaii.”

International law defines territorial waters  as a belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state.

As Shea’s own DFO website says Canada has exercised jurisdiction over the territorial sea on its east and west coasts out to 12 nautical miles since 1970, first under the Territorial Sea and Fishing Zones Act and now under the Oceans Act. The baselines for measuring the territorial sea were originally set in 1967. While the exact position can and should be confirmed by the ship’s navigation logs and GPS track, it is clear that the container vessel could have been at one point after it lost power within Canada’s territorial waters.

Even if the Simushir wasn’t exactly within territorial waters, the ship was in what again Shea’s own DFO website calls the “contiguous zone “an area of the sea adjacent to and beyond the territorial sea. Its outer limit measures 24 nautical miles from the normal baseline zone.” In any case, the Simushir was well within what Canada says is its “exclusive economic zone” which extends 200 nautical miles from the coastal baseline.

Law of the Sea

So here is the first question about Shea’s competence.

How could she not know that the Simushir was well within Canadian jurisdiction, as defined by her own department’s website? Even if the minister hadn’t read the departmental website, wasn’t she properly briefed by DFO officials?

The second point, is that whether or not the Simushir was in  actually in Canada’s territorial waters is irrelevant. Custom going back centuries, and now the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea  and even the Canada Shipping Act all require the master of a capable vessel to render assistance once that vessel receives a distress call or sees that another vessel is in distress.

The Safety of Life at Sea Convention

… the master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance, on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so.

And the Canada Shipping Act requires

Every qualified person who is the master of a vessel in any waters, on receiving a signal from any source that a person, a vessel or an aircraft is in distress, shall proceed with all speed to render assistance and shall, if possible, inform the persons in distress or the sender of the signal.

The master of a vessel in Canadian waters and every qualified person who is the master of avessel in any waters shall render assistance to every person who is found at sea and in danger of being lost.

Note the phrase any waters. Not just in Canadian territorial waters as the Shea, the minister responsible for the ocean seemed to imply in her Commons answers.

That once again calls into question Shea’s fitness to be a minister of the Crown.

If she did not know about the UN conventions on the law of the sea, of which Canada is signatory, or the Canada Shipping Act, she is not up for the job as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

If, as the minister responsible for oceans, she knew the law and was told by the PMO to mislead the House of Commons, she is is irresponsible and MPs should ask the Speaker if she actually broke the rules of the House.

 UN training document on the Law of the Sea Convention, including rescue at sea.  (pdf)

Regulation Seven of the Annex on Search and Rescue Services states

 Each Contracting Government undertakes to ensure that necessary arrangements are made for distress communication and co-ordination in their area of responsibility and for the rescue of persons in distress at sea around its coasts. These arrangements shall include the establishment, operation and maintenance of such search and rescue facilities as are deemed practicable and necessary, having regard to the density of the seagoing traffic and the navigational dangers, and shall, so far as possible, provide adequate means of locating and rescuing such persons.

Note that the regulation does not say within territorial waters, but “around its coasts.”

Rendering assistance

Canada has always rendered assistance to distressed vessels not just up and down the coast but around the world. Take the case of HMCS Chartlottetown. On February 3, 2008, HMCS Chartlottetown on anti-piracy and anti-terrorist patrol in the North Arabian Sea, spotted a rusty barge with some men stranded on the deck. It turned out the men were from Pakistan and that the vessel towing the barge had sunk with all hands, leaving only the men on the barge alive. The North Arabian Sea is far out side Canadian territorial waters.

In February, 2008. the crew of HMS Charlottown rescued the crew of a Pakistani barge that was drifting in the North Arabian sea after the tug that was hauling the barge sank. (MCS CHARLOTTETOWN’s approach team speaks to Pakistani crewmembers who were stranded on a barge after the vessel towing it sunk with their fellow crewmembers on board in the Northern Arabian Sea. MCS CHARLOTTETOWN’s approach team speaks to Pakistani crew members who were stranded on a barge after the vessel towing it sunk with their fellow crewmembers on board in the Northern Arabian Sea. (Cpl Robert LeBlanc,/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)
In February, 2008. the crew of HMCS Charlottetown rescued the crew of a Pakistani barge that was drifting in the North Arabian sea after the tug that was hauling the barge sank. (Cpl Robert LeBlanc,/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

On must wonder then if the Harper Government, or at least Minister Shea is suggesting that this country ignore centuries of maritime law and custom and, in the future, pass that barge by because it was not in Canadian waters?

Perhaps buried in the next omnibus bill we will see the Harper Government restrict rescue at sea to Canadian territorial waters. Farfetched? Well that is what Minister Shea’s answer in the Commons seems to suggest.

Given the cutbacks to the Coast Guard services over the past few years, and if there are going to be large tankers, whether LNG or bitumen, on the west coast, it is an open question whether or not the Harper government has actually made  those “arrangements shall include the establishment, operation and maintenance of such search and rescue facilities as are deemed practicable and necessary, having regard to the density of the seagoing traffic and the navigational dangers, and shall, so far as possible, provide adequate means of locating and rescuing such persons.”

Now comes the question of the use of the tug Barbara Foss and the two Smit tugs that later joined to tow the Simushir into Prince Rupert harbour.

It is the responibility of the owner or manager of a disabled vessel, large or small, to contract with a tug or towing service to safely take it back to port. But, and it’s a big but, the tow begins only when it is safe to do so, if there is a danger of the ship foundering, sinking or running aground, it is the obligation of all the responding vessels to render assistance, not just the tug contracted to do the job.

(There are reports that the Simushir owners chose to hire the Barbara Foss rather than the heavy duty Smit tugs available at Prince Rupert. Jonathan Whitworth, CEO of Seaspan told Gary Mason of The Globe and Mail that there are about 80 boats on the west coast, capable of  heavy-duty towing, but noted that as in the case of the Simushir, those vessels may not be available when needed)

While around the Lower Mainland of BC, even a small boat that has run out of gas or has engine trouble can get commercial assistance from many service providers, the same is not true of the north coast, or at Haida Gwaii, where are no such regular services. Seapan’s Whitworth told The Globe and Mail there is often a 6,000 horsepower log hauling tug that works off Haida Gwaii. but he also noted that it would be too expensive to have a tug permanently moored on the archipelago.

That means mariners who run out of gas or have engine trouble, say on Douglas Channel, have to call Prince Rupert Coast Guard radio and request assistance either from nearby vessels or from the volunteer Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue  service. RCMSAR policy says that a the rescue boat will not tow a vessel if “commercial assistance is reguarly available.” If commercial assistance is not available RCMSAR is only obligated to tow the boat as far as a “safe haven,” where the boat can tie up safely or contract for that “commercial assistance.”

Here on Douglas Channel the safe haven is usually Kitimat harbour and thus during the summer frequently either a good  Samaritan vessel or RCMSAR take the disabled vessel all the way to MK Bay.

Shea’s pat answer to the Opposition questions only betrayed the fact that the east coast minister is woefully ignorant of conditions on the northern coast of British Columbia.

In the old days, a minister who screwed up so badly would be asked to resign. That never happens any more. Ministerial responsibility has sunk to the bottom of the sea.

The bigger picture question seems to be. Why, if the Harper government is so anxious to get hydrocarbons, whether bitumen or natural gas to “tide water” does it keep going out of its way to show its contempt for the people who live on Canada’s west coast?

A note for the voters of Prince Edward Island, where Shea is the member for Egmont. Consider this, if a ship gets into trouble outside the 12 mile limit, trouble that could threaten your beautiful red sandy beaches, you’re likely on your own.

Harper’s Northern Gateway strategy and why it will end up in a muddy mess

It appears that the Stephen Harper’s strategy for approving Northern Gateway has been revealed on background to The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason. (Either it’s a revelation or a trial balloon).

It comes down to the idea that Harper will approve Gateway “in the national interest,” count on a vote split between the NDP and Liberals in British Columbia to avoid any consequences to the Conservative majority and then leave it up to Enbridge to actually get the job of building the pipeline and terminal project done.

Mason quotes “ a senior member of Mr. Harper’s government,” and while Mason doesn’t say what part of Canada the source is from, (unlikely in my view the source is from BC) what the member told Mason reveals that the Harper government is still mired in it the Matrix-world that has always governed its policy on Northern Gateway.

The first step, apparently coming in the next few days, is that the Harper government “rigorous” new tanker protocols for traffic along the west coast.

Tanker protocols
So the obvious question is, will these protocols be new or will the government simply be reannoucing paper policies that they did in the March 2013? How many of the recommendations of the tanker task force is the government actually going to accept?

Even if the protocols are new, just who is going to enforce those policies?

Mason says:

Even if Gateway and the Kinder Morgan expansion went ahead, he argued, B.C. would still only see about 60 per cent of the annual oil tanker traffic the neighbouring state of Washington deals with. And yet Washington has an exceptionally clean record when it comes to the safe transport of oil in and out of its harbours – this, he noted, while operating under marine safety regulations that are not as rigorous as the ones Ottawa intends to put in place for the shipment of oil along the West Coast.

There are a lot big problems with that statement.

First, there’s an organization that the Mason’s source may have heard of known as the United States Coast Guard. The United States rigorously enforces its “weak” regulations, while Canada’s Coast Guard is plagued by staff shortages and budget cuts.

Second, the State of Washington also rigorously enforces its environmental regulations, not only on the coast but across the state. I have been told by retired British Columbia forestry and environmental officials (not to mention Fisheries and Oceans) that there are often more state environmental watch dogs in most Washington State counties than in all of northern British Columbia where the Northern Gateway is supposed to be going.

The September 2013, report by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration on the export of Canadian bitumen sands through the US shows that the Washington Department of Ecology is working on strengthening regulations for both pipelines and (where it’s in state jurisdiction) tanker traffic. The same report says the state of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is updating its plans and possible regulations in anticipation that bitumen filled tanker traffic from Kitimat would come close to the coast en route to Asia.

Third, the coast of northern British Columbia is more rugged and stormy than the waters off Washington.

Who pays?

The one factor that the urban media seems to ignore, is the big question.

Who pays?

Who pays to enforce the 209 conditions that the Joint Review Panel imposed on the Northern Gateway project?

If the Harper government announces new tanker regulations in the coming days, who pays to enforce those regulations?

There were no provisions in the February budget for enforcing the 209 conditions. Rather there were continuing budget cuts to the very departments that the JRP ruled must be involved in the studying, planning, implementation and enforcement of the 209 conditions, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada.

So while Mason says “The federal government will play its part in meeting the five conditions laid out by the B.C. government for support of the project,” the response must be “Show me the money!”

During the recent plebiscite campaign, Northern Gateway finally revealed its plans for the “super tugs” that will escort tankers along the coast and up Douglas Channel.  Owen McHugh, a Northern Gateway emergency manager said, “Adding these four or five tugs to the north coast provides a rescue capability that doesn’t exist in this format. So for any large commercial vessel that is traveling on our coast, this capacity to protect the waters of the north coast.”  Those tugs and Northern Gateway’s plans to station teams at small bases along the coast means that the company is, in effect, creating a parallel, private, coast guard on the BC Coast.

What about the Coast Guard itself? The Harper government has been gutting Coast Guard resources along the coast even before it had its majority. It closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver. There is more dependence on the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue volunteers, who have to raise money locally for modern rescue boats which cost up to $750,000. The money that government was “generously” giving to RCMSAR had to be split up to 70 stations in 42 communities along the coast as well as its administrative and training staff.

And speaking of boats, what about Coast Guard vessels on the coast? As the Globe and Mail has reported, the government’s shipbuilding program is already over budget  and behind schedule. The aim is  Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships  and new destroyers. With the crippling of HMCS Protecteur that has raised the concerns about the already troubled supply ship program.

Does anyone notice what is missing from that list? What’s missing are  better Coast Guard vessels just to police all the expected tanker traffic on the west coast (whether LNG or bitumen) and no mention of dedicated spill response vessels, which under the “polluter pay” policy will likely be left to private contractors (and hope that the ships are available at the time of a spill)

How will we know?

Then there is the question of how will people even know if the 209 conditions are being enforced; whether or not the reports demanded by the Joint Review Panel are going be sitting on the National Energy Board server and ignored.

There is every indication, given the government’s obsession with secrecy that until there is a disaster the Canadian public will never know what’s going on. Harper’s muzzling doesn’t just cover government scientists, it covers the lowest level of bureaucrats, as District of Kitimat Council found out when low level DFO bureaucrats refused to appear publicly before council to discuss the risk to the Kitimat River.

So the scenario is, according to Mason’s source

“I think once this decision is made, Enbridge could have shovels in the ground the next day,” the member said. “They are ready to go. This means the First Nations could start realizing profits from this right away, as opposed to the promised profits from LNG, which may never materialize. I think they need to think about that.”

First, as part of the blunders is that the Conservatives have always made is the assumption that eventually the First Nations of British Columbia can be paid off, ignoring the commitment of the First Nations, especially on the coast, to protect the environment that sustained them for thousands of years.

While the LNG market is volatile, the “member” forgets that most of the First Nations of British Columbia have opposed the Northern Gateway since Enbridge first floated the idea in 2001. The current LNG rush didn’t start until after Japan shut down its nuclear power plants after the March 2011 earthquake, The first major anti-Enbridge rally,  “The Solidarity Gathering of Nations” was held at Kitamaat Village in May 2010.

Writing off BC

It appears that Conservatives, in their election strategy have already written off Gateway opponents:

Still, there is a raw political calculus that needs to be taken into account. Polls measuring support for the pr.oject in B.C. vary, but generally have shown that anywhere from 55 to 60 per cent of the province opposes Gateway and 40 to 45 per cent support it. Isn’t that enough to scare off a government that needs critical votes in B.C. to win another majority?
“Let’s say 60 per cent are against it,” he said. “And that vote splits between the Liberals and the NDP come the next election. Who are the 40 per cent going to vote for?”

As for the cabinet, it has consistently shown its contempt for northwestern British Columbia  and that is unlikely to change.

Mason also speculates that Harper will approve Gateway to stick it to Barack Obama and the delays on Keystone XL. As he points out that’s a political, not an economic decision.

There are civil disobedience classes being held across northwestern BC  this month.  Access to Information requests by the Vancouver Observer revealed increased RCMP surveillance of the anti-Gateway movement.  There has always been talk of a “war in the woods” if the pipeline project is forced on an unwilling population.

So it comes down to a question that Mason and the Conservatives are avoiding. Mason’s source says Northern Gateway is crucial to the national interest:

“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right, not what’s politically expedient,” he said. “You have to ask: What’s in the best interests of all Canadians?”

So given all that will the Harper government leave Enbridge to tough it out on its own?

Highly unlikely.

But will the Harper government, with its bean counting obsession on balancing the budget be willing to pay for all that is needed?

Highly likely.

There’s lots of marine clay along the pipeline route, laid down by ancient oceans. That brings to mind just one word. Quagmire, not just the wet, sticky BC mud but a political quagmire.

Gulf oil spill caused heart defects in fish embryos new study finds

There is more proof that the toxic agents in crude oil are damaging to the development of fish embryos.

A study, “Deepwater Horizon Crude Oil Impacts the Developing Hearts of Large Predatory Pelagic Fish,” to be published on March 25, shows that several Gulf of Mexico fish embryos developed serious defects in heart development following exposure to crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

This study is the first to analyze the effects of the primary toxic agents released from crude oil on several commercially important pelagic fish species that spawn in the Gulf of Mexico.

The research team, which included five researchers from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, concluded that, “losses of early life stages were therefore likely for Gulf populations of tunas, amberjack, swordfish, billfish, and other large predators that spawned in oiled surface habitats.”

“This study is the first to understand the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the early life development of commercially important fish in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Daniel Benetti, Rosenstiel School professor of marine affairs and policy and director of the Aquaculture Program. “The findings can be applied to fisheries management questions in marine regions where crude oil extraction is prevalent.”

The study in the March 25 issue in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), assessed the impacts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a toxic agent released from crude oil, from Deepwater Horizon oil samples on embryos of bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and amberjack. Embryos were exposed to two different oil samples, one collected from surface skimming operations in the Gulf of Mexico and another from the source pipe attached to the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead.

A vast number of the water samples collected at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site had PAH concentrations exceeding the toxicity thresholds observed in the study, therefore researchers demonstrated the potential for losses of pelagic fish larvae during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Having access to the aquaculture facility and expertise at The Rosenstiel School positioned our team of UM scientists to address questions regarding the impacts of the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill on these important pelagic top predators.” said Martin Grosell, Maytag professor of ichthyology at The UM Rosenstiel School. “The present study is the first of several on the topic to emerge from efforts by scientists and graduate students at The UM Rosenstiel School.”

embryo
This is a mahi-mahi embryo approximately 36 hours post-fertilization. ( John Stieglitz, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science)

The embryos used in the study were collected from research broodstock located at land-based fish hatcheries in Australia and Panama. Test methods were developed and designed by Dr. Grosell and Dr. Benetti’s team at The UM Rosenstiel School’s experimental hatchery facility.

Exposure to each oil type produced virtually identical defects in embryos of all three tested species. For each species, oil exposures caused serious defects in heart development, and abnormalities in cardiac function, indicating crude oil cardiotoxicity. Bluefin tuna showed the highest percentage of larvae with the entire suite of defects, and their populations are currently listed by the IUCN as endangered due to historically low levels.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico released more than four million barrels of crude oil into the surrounding waters during the seasonal spawning window for bluefin and yellowfin tunas, mahi mahi, king and Spanish mackerels, greater and lesser amberjack, sailfish, blue marlin, and cobia, all commercially and ecologically important open-ocean fish species.

“Vulnerability assessments in other ocean habitats, including the Arctic, should focus on the developing heart of resident fish species as an exceptionally sensitive and consistent indicator of crude oil impacts,” said the paper’s authors.

Another recent study of the Deepwater Horizon spill found that oil spills can trigger cardiac arrest in fish affected by the spill.

A study of an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in 2007 found “unexpected lethal impact on embryonic fish,” according to scientists from the University of California  at Davis  and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who spent two years on follow-up research after the spill.

The long term impact of the Exxon Valdez spill on the developing fish embryo is still being hotly debated.

 

Haisla consultation reply outlines flaws in Northern Gateway Joint Review report

Haisla NationThe Haisla Nation response to the federal government’s request for consultation on the Joint Review Panel report on the Northern Gateway lists what the First Nation sees as flaws in the panel’s assessment of the project. (The Haisla filed their first list of flaws in the JRP in a court challenge).

In the response, seen by Northwest Coast Energy News, the Haisla are objecting to both the government’s and the JRP’s attitude toward the idea of consultation as well as some of the specific findings by the panel. The Haisla also fault the JRP process for refusing to take into consideration reports and studies that were released after the evidentiary deadlines.

Overall, the Haisla say

 The JRP report is written in a way that prevents an assessment of how or whether the JRP considered Haisla Nation concerns and of how whether the JRP purports to address the Haisla Nation’s concerns. Further the JRP Report is lacking n some of the fundamental justification required to understand how arrived at its recommendations.

So what are the Haisla concerns?

In the document filed with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Haisla say:

 The proposed project carries with it an inordinate amount of risk to Haisla Nation Territory. The Haisla Nation is being asked to play host to this proposed project, despite the risk the proposed project poses to the land waters and resources relied on by the Haisla Nation for sustenance and cultural heritage. The risk includes a huge risk to Haisla Nation aboriginal rights to trap, hunt and fish, to gather seafood and gather plant materials. It could result in significant damage to the Haisla Nation cultural heritage—its traditional way of life…..

The terminal site is one of the few areas suitable for terminal development in our territory. It is also home to over 800 Haisla Nation Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs). Northern Gateway proposes to irrevocably alter the land, the use of the land and access to this land for the duration of the proposed project, which is anticipated to be at least 80 years. This irrevocable alteration includes the felling of our CMTS….

By seeking to use Haisla Nation aboriginal title land for the proposed project, Northern Gateway will be effectively expropriating the economic value of this land. Northern Gateway is proposing to use Haisla Nation aboriginal title land for a project with no benefit to the Haisla Nation and which is fundamentally at odds with Haisla Nation stewardship principles.

 

Obstructed clear understanding 

The Haisla say that “Canada has failed to adhere is own framework” for the JRP because in the Aboriginal Consultation Framework says “Federal departments will be active participants in the JRP process to ensure the environmental assessment and consultation record, is as accurate and complete as possible.”

The Haisla say “Canada provided limited written evidence to the JRP” and goes on to say that the “federal governments not only failed to provide relevant information but also obstructed a clear understanding of project impacts.”

Among the evidence relevant to Northern Gateway that the federal government was “unable or unwilling to provide” includes:

  •  Natural Resources had expertise on acid rock damage and metal leaching but did not include evidence on that in their evidence
  •  Fisheries and Oceans did not have a mandate to conduct an assessment of the potential toxicological effects of an oil spill.
  •  Environment Canada did not review or provide information on the spills from pipelines.
  • The federal government witnesses were unable to answer questions about the toxicity of dispersant.
  • Environment Canada was asked if it had studies of the subsurface currents and the movement of submerged oil. Environment Canada told the JRP did not measure hydrodynamic data but relies on DFO. DFO cold not provide any witnesses to the JRP with expertise on subsurface currents.

 

In the formal response on the JRP report, Haisla also say:

  •  The JRP has concluded that the risk of a large spill form the pipeline in the Kitimat River Valley is not likely, despite very significant information gaps relating to geohazards, leak detection and spill response.
  •  The JRP has concluded that a large spill would result in significant adverse environmental effects. However, the JRP appears to base a finding that these effects are unlikely to occur on an unreasonable assumptions about how widespread the effects could be or how long they would last. The JRP has not considered the extent to which a localized effect could impact Haisla Nation.
  •  The JRP relies on the concept of “natural recovery” as mitigation of significant adverse effects. The Haisla Nation asked the JRP to compel information from Northern Gateway about the applicability of its evidence to species found in Haisla National Territory. The JRP, however, refused to compel this evidence from Northern Gateway.
  •  The JRP has accepted at face value that Northern Gateway would shut down its pipeline within 13 minutes in the event of a rupture and has failed to consider the effects of a large spill that is not detected with this timeframe through the control centre (or was in the case of Kalamazoo, is detected by the control centre but is systematically mischaracterized and ignored).

As part of the consultation process the Haisla want 22 changes to the JRP report, changes which echo the Haisla Final Written Argument that was filed at the end of the hearings.

It says:

 The Panel should find that potential impacts to asserted Haisla Nation aboriginal rights and title from the proposed project are such that project cannot be found to be in the public interest in the absence of meaningful consultation… The current status of engagement and the federal government imposition of a 6-month time limit to complete consultation raise serious concerns that meaningful consultation will not be possible. Therefore the proposed project is not in the public interest.

Among the others are:

  • The JRP should have determined the significant of adverse effects to rare ecological communities that cannot mitigated.
  • The JRP should have provided more information to allow a reasonable assessment of the risk of a spill from the pipelines.
  • The JRP would have considered all factors to contribute to the risk of a spill.
  • The JRP should have found that Northern Gateway’s assessment of the toxicity of an oil spill because it did not consider the full range of products to be shipped nor did it consider the potential pathways of the effect of a toxic spill, whether from a pipeline, at the marine terminal or in the case of a tanker spill
  • The evidence had not demonstrated that Northern Gateway’s spill response would be able to mitigate the effects of a spill either at the pipeline, at the Kitimat marine terminal or from a tanker spill.
  • The JRP did not consider the impact of the Kitimat Marine Terminal on their cultural and archaeological heritage, including culturally modified trees.

Related

Ottawa’s Northern Gateway consultation with First Nations limited to three simple questions and 45 days: documents

Haisla ask cabinet to postpone Northern Gateway decision to allow for adequate consultation with First Nations

Haisla response lists evidence rejected by Northern Gateway Joint Review

Bitumen excluded from data for federal tanker study, documents reveal

Tanker risk map
Transport Canada tanker report map shows current risk for spills in BC (Transport Canada)

 

Genivar report
Cover of Genivar tanker report (Transport Canada)

 

The possible effects of a bitumen spill on Pacific waters were not considered in the oil response preparedness report released last week by the Harper government, the background data study reveals.

The consulting firm that did the study for Transport Canada, Genivar Inc, had no reliable data on the effect of a bitumen tanker disaster—because, so far, there has been no major ocean disaster involving diluted bitumen.

Instead, Genivar, based its findings on potential hazards and response on existing data on crude oil spills.

The Genivar study, however, does warn, that if the Enbridge Northern Gateway project does go ahead,  the spill risk from diluted bitumen carrying tankers in Douglas Channel and along the north Pacific coast will jump from “low” or “medium” to “very high.” If the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline goes ahead, then the risk in Vancouver also jumps to “very high.”

The question of how bitumen might behave in the cold and choppy waters of the North Pacific was hotly debated during the Northern Gateway Joint Review hearings earlier this year. Enbridge Northern Gateway based its position on laboratory studies, studies that were challenged by environmental and First Nations intervenors, pointing both to the unknowns of the ocean environment and the continuing problems Enbridge has in cleaning up the spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

Genivar tried to base its report to Transport Canada on existing data on oil spills and related hazards. What it found instead is that that there are often gaping holes in the reporting and monitoring of oil spills world wide, especially small and medium sized spills.

Lack of data also meant that Genivar had little to go on when it calculated the effect on an oil spill on key areas of interest to northwest British Columbia, the recreational fishery and tourism.
Genivar, however, did uncover disturbing data about the long term effects of oil spills, studies that show even minute amounts of remaining oil can still disrupt the marine environment 40 years after an event.

The Genivar report, Risk Assessment for Marine Spills in Canadian Waters Phase 1: Oil Spills South of 60th Parallel, was completed in November, then passed on to the “expert panel” that released their own report: A Review of Canada’s Ship-source Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime — Setting the Course for the Future. That second report was based not only on the data provided by Genivar but on the expertise of three panel members, their visits to some locations and input from government, industry, First Nations and municipalities.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver unveiled the second report at a glitzy media event  in Vancouver on Tuesday, December 10. At that time the expert panel report was released to the media along with an abstract of the data.

The actual data report was not posted; it had to be requested through the Transport Canada website, which is how Northwest Coast Energy News obtained the background study.

High risk for Kitimat

Transport Canada tanker report
Expert panel tanker risk assessment report cover (Transport Canada)

The expert panel found “a very high risk” of oil spills in two areas of the Pacific Coast, in the north around the ports of Kitimat and Prince Rupert and in the heavy ocean traffic area of southern British Columbia, especially Port Metro Vancouver and into Washington State.

The expert panel made 45 recommendations that covered a wide range of issues including eliminating the present $161-million liability limit for each spill and replacing it with unlimited liability for polluters, annual spill training involving the Canadian Coast Guard, Environment Canada, provincial and local authorities and the private sector, increased and improved annual spill training exercises, basing risk assessment on local geography and conditions and faster emergency responses to spills.

The expert panel calls for greatly increased research on the ocean environment at a time that Harper government has been gutting environmental research across Canada, while spinning that its policies are “science based.”

The science and technology around both the movement of oil and spill response has advanced significantly over the past several decades. We feel that while some aspects of the Regime have kept pace with these developments, in some areas, Canada has fallen behind world-leading countries like Norway and France. This can be attributed to a general lack of investment in research and development as well as the lack of coordination between industry and government over research priorities.

The Government of Canada should work closely with industry to establish a national research and development program for oil spill preparedness and response. The program should be co-funded by industry and the Government, and the research priorities should be set through a collaborative process that involves academia, where possible. Like the Regime itself, we view this program as a partnership between industry and government.

We envision that this program would also seek to leverage the work being done internationally on oil spill preparedness and response. The program should seek to establish partnerships with other world-leading countries in order to stay current on international advances and new technologies.

The expert panel, however, does not say how the federal government is expected to pay for meeting BC Premier Christy Clark’s condition for a “world class” spill prevention and response system at a time that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is determined to balance the budget and the Harper government is continuing to cut back government services.

Bitumen excluded

On bitumen, the Genivar data study says:

Modified bitumen products represent the majority of the “crude carried as cargo” in
Pacific sub-sector 5. They are not modelled as a separate category in this spill behaviour analysis but are represented as “persistent crude”.

Changes in spill behaviour depend to some extent on the environmental conditions at the time of the spill, as described in greater detail below. However, over the range of wind and sea conditions typically experienced in the Canadian marine environment, changes in oil properties are not overly sensitive to variations in climatic values, so a single set of wind and sea conditions will be used in the analysis.

The idea that “changes in oil properties” not being sensitive to variations in climate was also frequently challenged before the Joint Review Panel.

On the increase in traffic volume if the Northern Gateway project goes ahead, the Genivar report says.

Enbridge Inc. has proposed to construct a marine terminal at Kitimat, B.C. and a dual pipeline from the terminal to oil sands production in northern Alberta. The terminal would handle up to 193,000 barrels/day of imported diluents (i.e., low-gravity condensate) that would be piped to Alberta and used to dilute bitumen to enhance its flow properties. The diluted bitumen would then be piped to Kitimat at rates up to 525,000 barrels/day that would be shipped by tanker to export to markets in Asia and California.

At full capacity, the import of diluent and export of diluted bitumen would total up to 35 Mt/year. This amount is comparable to the currently-shipped volume in the Pacific sector related to volumes being exported from Vancouver and related to volumes being exported from the Alaskan to Washington State trade.

It goes on to say that the current tanker traffic on the north Pacific coast “has negligible risk in the near shore and intermediate zones, but significant potential spill frequency in the deep-sea zone related to the Alaskan trade.” Similarly, according to Genivar the environmental risk in the region “currently ranges from ‘medium’ to “very low” from near shore to deep-sea zones, respectively…. mainly driven by a combination of physical and biological features.”

The increase in traffic from Northern Gateway would likely increase the environmental risks. The the near shore risk from would jump from “very low” to “very high.” For the largest spill category, deep-sea risk would likely increase from “low” to “medium.”

No data on recreational or traditional First Nations fishery

To study the effect on an oil spill on the fishery, Genivar used data from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as the provinces to gauge “the port value of commercial fishing and the value of the fish, shellfish and aquaculture” in each zone it studied and then compared it to the the national averages for commercial fishery. Those figures included any commercial fishery by First Nations.

But Genivar noted, there is no reliable data on either the recreational fishery or the First Nations traditional, food, social and ceremonial fishery, saying:

It is important to highlight that this indicator does not consider recreational or traditional fishing. The importance of this industry is notable and an oil spill could damage the recreational fishing stock as well. However, the absence of comparable data and the fact that this study is restricted to federal and international data, and some provincial data from Quebec and Ontario for commercial fisheries, limits the ability to include recreational fishing… Nevertheless, as an absolute index, it will provide an overall vulnerability in the event of an oil spill.

The ongoing impact of cutbacks at Fisheries and Oceans has had a continuing impact on the northwest, especially in the controversial halibut recreational fishery, where DFO has admitted that it is basically guessing the size of each year’s recreational halibut catch.

Tourism

Genivar also notes that lack of reliable data on the effect on a oil spill on tourism. The consultants go so far as to say one of the indicators they will use to measure the effect of any oil spill on tourism would come from “data extracted from the 2011 National Household Survey at the census division level and the accommodation and food services data will be used.”

The “National Household Survey” is also known as the long form census and it is the National Household Survey that the Harper government made voluntary rather mandatory, decreasing the reliability of the data. Global News recently analyzed those who had contributed to the survey and found that it poor people, the very rich and people in low population areas were least likely to fill out the voluntary census—which means the data for northwest BC is likely highly unreliable from the 2011 survey even though “The census divisions in coastal regions will be selected for each of the sub-sectors. This method will express the economic vulnerability of each sub-sector to a potential collapse in tourism following a spill.”

Despite the importance of cruise ship traffic on the west coast, Genivar notes, “In Canada, data for passenger vessels were unavailable.”

It also notes that “this study does not specifically take into account national parks and other landmarks, since their influence on tourism is indirectly included in the tourism employment
intensity index” so that Genivar could create what it calls the Human-Use Resource Index (HRI), even though that index appears to be based on incomplete data.

Commentary: In the tanker study, the District of Kitimat was missing in action

kitimatlogoThe list of participants in the oil spill preparedness and response study released last week by the federal government shows two glaring no shows, the District of Kitimat and Rio Tinto Alcan.
The Haisla Nation and the Gitga’at Nation did provide written submissions to the panel.

The expert panel was set up by the federal government to review “oil handling facilities and ship-source oil spill preparedness and response.” The expert panel was to review the “structure, functionality and the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the system, as well as analyzing the requirements for hazardous and noxious substances, including liquefied natural gas.”

Transport Canada tanker report
Expert panel tanker risk assessment report cover (Transport Canada)

As well as commissioning the Genivar report on the state of oil spill preparedness and consequences, the panel interviewed stakeholders and visited a few key locations, including Port Metro Vancouver.

The panel also invited any interested groups to submit documents or their own views to be taken into consideration.

Among the stakeholders interviewed by the panel were companies and organizations very familiar to Kitimat; Chevron and Shell, main partners in two of the LNG projects; Enbridge, which has proposed the Northern Gateway Pipeline and Kinder Morgan which has proposed expanding the dilbit pipeline on the Lower Mainland. Other stakeholders included Coastal First Nations, the Prince Rupert Port Authority, SMIT Marine and the Vancouver Port Authority.

As well as the Haisla and the Gitga’at, five west coast municipalities submitted their own reports to the tanker panel, both the city and districts of North Vancouver, the city of Richmond, the District of Ucluelet and the District of West Vancouver. San Juan County in Washington State also made a submission to the panel. So did the Prince Rupert and Vancouver Port authorities.

Chevron, Enbridge, Imperial Oil, Kinder Morgan, Pacific Northwest LNG, Seaspan Marine, and the Union of BC Municipalities, among others also submitted their views to the panel.

So why didn’t the District of Kitimat participate? When it came to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review, the mayor and council always maintained their neutrality motion meant that the District would not be an active participant. That was always a short sighted viewpoint. The District should have participated actively in the JRP in such a way as to protect the region’s interests where necessary while remaining neutral. If the District of Kitimat sat out the tanker panel because of the Northern Gateway neutrality policy, that was no excuse, because the expert panel’s mandate specifically included LNG.

Tanker traffic is a potential threat to the San Juan Islands (the Gulf Islands on the American side of the border). It is astounding that San Juan County would think that the Canadian tanker panel was important enough to make a submission and the District of Kitimat did not.

RTA logoWhat about Rio Tinto Alcan? Kitimat has been a private port for 60 years, run first by Alcan and then by Rio Tinto Alcan. Why wasn’t RTA asked to participate as a stakeholder? Why didn’t RTA make a submission? Those who are pushing the Northern Gateway terminal always like to say that tankers have been calling at Kitimat for those 60 years. That is true. Of course, none of those tankers have been the Very Large Crude Carriers proposed by Northern Gateway. However, those 60 years means that RTA has the expertise on the Port of Kitimat and Douglas Channel. RTA probably has important data that could have helped both the expert panel and Genivar (which pointed out the paucity of data on small and medium sized tankers). In not participating in the tanker panel submissions and possibly not providing valuable data on Douglas Channel, RTA neglected its social responsibility both to the community of Kitimat and the rest of the province of British Columbia.

Tanker study shows huge gaps in shipping and hazard data, documents show

The study of tanker shipping and tanker spills by Genivar for Transport Canada has revealed huge gaps in how the world monitors tanker traffic.

Genivar report
Cover of Genivar tanker report (Transport Canada)

Genivar says

Accident data was acquired from three main sources: the CCG Marine Pollution Incident Reporting System (MPIRS); the Lloyd’s casualty database; and spill incident records maintained by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF).

MPIRS lists all marine pollution incidents occurring in Canadian waters (CCG, 2013), with information on the region within Canada in which the incident occurred, type of material spilled, accident cause, and estimated pollution volume with multiple entries for a given incident showing updates of incident status and pollution amounts if applicable. The primary use of MPIRS in this study was for spill incidents in the smaller size categories… for which worldwide data was suspected to be unreliable due to under-reporting. MPIRS appeared to be a comprehensive listing of incidents that occurred in Canadian waters, and a summary of polluting incidents

It goes on to note that some key data has not been updated since the 1990s, largely prior to the introduction of double hulled tankers.

As noted, oil spill accidents were compiled on a worldwide basis.

In order to estimate the frequency for Canada, an exposure variable was required.

A series of studies by the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS, now known as
the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) investigated the occurrence rates of tanker accidents against various spill exposure variables and found that the simplest and most reliable indicator was volume of oil transported. Simply put, it was determined that spill rates could be expressed, for a range of spill size categories, as an average number of spills per billion barrels transported.

The MMS studies were updated periodically until the 1990s but have not been revisited since, but they did show a steady decrease in the likelihood of casualties and resulting spill volumes, due to a number of factors including tanker design, increasing governance and overall scrutiny of the marine transportation industry. The phased-in implementation of double-hull tankers may have also had a beneficial effect on spill rates in more recent years, particularly in the category of very large or catastrophic events… In any case, it is important in interpreting accident data to reflect current trends and implemented mitigation measures. The focus was on cargo volumes and accident rates over the past decade.

It goes on to say the volumes of crude carried is also under-reported to Lloyds.

In the case of crude oil and refined products carried as cargo, the exposure variable was simply the volume of each respective category carried on an annual basis for the period of interest. Information from the Lloyds APEX database was used for this purpose; it reports volumes of crude and refined products shipped worldwide, with a breakdown by year, country of origin, and country of destination. Compared with similar data from Canadian sources, the APEX data appeared to significantly under-report the carriage of refined products. As a result, the accident rates estimated and used in this study are likely somewhat conservative, that is, they overstate the likely frequency of refined products carried as cargo. For all calculations involving the potential spillage of refined products as cargo in Canadian waters, and for the apportioning of spill frequency among the various sectors and sub-sectors of Canada, Transport Canada commodity traffic data was used

Again about Lloyds data, until 2010, it was limited in its monitoring of the BC Coast.

In analyzing the Canadian movement data supplied by Lloyds, a major shortcoming was found in the data in that movements recorded prior to 2010 did not include broad classes of vessels such as ferries, passenger vessels, and pilot boats. Given that these vessels comprise a significant proportion of traffic movement in many sectors, only data covering the final two years of the record, 2010 and 2011, were used in the analysis.

The Lloyds data was also limited when it came to oil spills:

One limitation of the MPIRS data was that it did not classify spills as to whether they were from “cargo” as opposed to “fuel”, which would have been helpful in this study as these spill types were analyzed separately. As a result, for spills of refined products, which could have hypothetically been either cargo or fuel, assumptions were made based on the type of vessel involved, the type and severity of the incident, and other notes within MPIRS.

A database was acquired from Lloyds that detailed all marine casualties over the
past ten years regardless of whether the incident involved pollution…
This database was used to provide a breakdown of incidents by cause, and as an
initial listing of those incidents that did result in pollution. The Lloyds data was of
mixed quality when it came to the reporting of polluting incidents, with numerous
records only partially filled out, ambiguities in the reporting of spill volume, and
inconsistencies in the classification of the spilled material. A significant effort was
made to provide consistency and accuracy in the information, including cross-
referencing with other data sources.

 

So the Genivar report exposes a significant gap in the available data on oil spills.

It is certainly true that the number of major tanker accidents and spills have decreased since the Exxon Valdez disaster, a point frequently made by Enbridge at meetings in northwestern BC.

The expert panel report which said that Canada faces the risk of a major tanker disaster of 10,000 tonnes or more once every 242 years.

The Vancouver Sun quoted Transport Canada spokeswoman Jillian Glover on that risk of a spill on the Pacific Coast as saying. “This value must be understood in relative terms, such that the risk is considered high compared to the rest of the country only…Canada enjoys a very low risk of a major oil spill, evidenced by the lack of Canadian historical spills in the larger categories. Additionally, this risk assessment is before any mitigation measures have been applied, so that is a theoretical number before additional prevention initiatives are taken.”

Note that the government always talks about a “major oil spill,” but it appears from the gaps in the data that predicting the possibility and consequences of a medium sized or smaller oil spill is now not that reliable, even though such a spill could have disastrous effects on a local area. According to a map in both reports, the entire BC coast is at risk for a “low to medium” spill. This echoes the problems with the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, where Enbridge based most of its projections on a “full bore breach” or major pipeline break and did little about a medium sized or smaller leak. Data analysis by Kelly Marsh of Douglas Channel Watch on the possibility of the cumulative effects of a medium sized and possibly undetected pipeline breach could have just as disastrous consequences for the Kitimat valley as a major pipeline break. The same is likely true at sea.