The recent seizure of a stateless ship in international waters 2,600 miles off Alaska’s coast has spotlighted the challenge that the U.S. and other nations face in trying to crackdown on illegal fishing, an activity that accounts for up to $23.5 billion a year in global economic losses.
Finding rogue vessels in the vast, open ocean can be like finding a needle in a haystack. But U.S. officials and some environmentalists say progress is being made, including multinational patrol and enforcement agreements and the potential for sanctions against countries that engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated (or IUU) fishing.
The Canadian Coast Guard has recorded 53 oil tanker spills that
required a cleanup on the country’s shorelines over the past 10 years,
the federal government has revealed in a document tabled in Parliament.
total, the government reported 169 “pollution incidents” in Canadian
waters involving oil tankers since 2001. But it said that in the “vast
majority of cases,” there were no pollutants found in the water.
Now the issue has come to attention of Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, who is raising alarm bells in the Senate about the dangers of tanker traffic, the possibility of a spill and the probable inadequacy of the Canadian response to any major shipping accident along the coast.
Cantwell’s main concern is upgrading the ability of the United States Coast Guard to respond to such an accident, “This is a major threat to our region,” Cantwell said at hearing on July 20 of the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee. “It seems that Canada’s oil spill response plan in the Pacific Northwest is to call the Americans. …Obviously any such spill in the narrow and heavily populated waters of the Puget Sound or Strait of Juan de Fuca would cause tens of billions of dollars in damage and impact millions of my constituents. … I think it deserves a very robust oil spill response plan.”
Cantwell says she secured a commitment from Rear Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security and Stewardship for the United States Coast Guard, to have the U.S. Coast Guard perform an extensive analysis of cross-border readiness and ability to respond to potential spills given the potentially dramatic increase in oil tanker traffic along the U.S.-Canada maritime border off Washington state.
After the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Cantwell pushed a bill through the U.S. Congress that, strengthens oil spill protections for Puget Sound and other U.S. coastal waters. The bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 15, 2010, includes provisions that significantly enhance oil spill response and prevention to protect valuable coastal communities and their economies.
Cantwell’s news release says
The legislation expands the oil spill response safety net from Puget Sound out to the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, ensuring that Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca have spill response teams and equipment in place. The bill further reduces ship and tanker traffic in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary; enhances spill prevention efforts on vessels transporting oil; and establishes a stronger role for tribes.
Cantwell also fought to include a provision that requires tug escorts for double-hulled tankers in Prince William Sound. Approximately 600 oil tankers and 3,000 oil barges travel through Puget Sound’s fragile ecosystem annually, carrying about 15 billion gallons of oil to Washington’s five refineries. The Strait of Juan de Fuca also has significant outbound tanker traffic originating in Vancouver and carrying Canadian oil. Prior to the 2010 Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill, American industry only had to position oil spill response equipment in Puget Sound, leaving the busy shipping lane in the Strait of Juan de Fuca unprotected.
Cantwell’s provision extended the “high volume port area” designation west to Cape Flattery. As a result, oil spill response equipment, such as booms and barriers, are now prepositioned along the Strait, supplementing the response equipment already in place in Puget Sound.
An oil spill in waters in Washington state interior waterways could be devastating. According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, a major spill would have a significant impact on Washington state’s coastal economy, which employs 165,000 people and generates $10.8 billion. A spill would also severely hurt our export dependent economy because international shipping would likely be severely restricted. Washington state’s waters support a huge variety of animals and plants, including a number of endangered species, all which would be harmed by a spill.
Cantwell says she was successful in protecting a tanker ban in Puget Sound. Former Alaskan Repuiblican Senator Ted Stevens attempted to overturn the then 28-year-old protections authored by former Senator Warren Magnuson limiting oil tanker traffic in the Puget Sound. In 1977, Senator Warren Magnuson had the foresight to recognize the great risk that oil supertankers would have on the waters of Puget Sound. He put his findings into law and essentially banned supertankers in the Puget Sound by prohibiting the expansion of oil terminals in Puget Sound.
Enbridge, environmentalists agree
The inadequate Canadian Coast Guard resources in the Pacific region bring rare agreement between Enbridge which wants to build the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline and the project’s environmental opponents.
While Enbridge maintains that safety systems it plans would make a tanker accident a rare event, when officials were questioned at last September’s public meeting in Kitimat, they said Enbridge was worried about Coast Guard resources on the west coast. They said that Enbridge’s emergency planning scenarios call for it to take 72 hours for the Canadian Coast Guard to respond with its meagre equipment from Victoria and Vancouver to a tanker accident in Douglas Channel. The Enbridge team admitted under questioning from the audience that the company would urge to Canadian government to call on US Coast Guard resources from Alaska and as far away as California in the event of a major spill, confirming Sen. Cantwell’s statement to the subcommittee that Canada would “Call the Americans.”
Rex Murphy, writing in The National Post is fully justified in his rant Saturday against more search and rescue cutbacks in Newfoundland by the Harper government. Since it involves his beloved “Rock,” my former colleague is at his rhetorical best (and as the northwest knows the BC coast faces equally dumb cutbacks here)
Scarcely had Mr. Harper captured the PM’s job again, this time as a
majority leader in the last election, when one of his ministers came out
with the equally ludicrous decision to move search-and-rescue
operations: Last week, it was announced that the co-ordination centre in
St. John’s (along with one in Quebec City) was slated for termination,
with services relocated to Halifax and Trenton, Ont.
And according to reports circulating this week, the Department of
National Defence’s search-and-rescue services might soon be privatized.
(Currently, the job is done in partnership between DND and the Coast
Guard, which is overseen by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans). If
that happens, there’s no telling where the services would be relocated.
What is in the air in Ottawa? How do such absurd notions take root in
the federal mind? Would they ever take similar steps in regard to, say,
the regulation of Lake Ontario shipping?
Search and Rescue is not some toy service. It concerns life and
death. And considering the tragedies that fret the history of the
province over the centuries, this would not only be a wrong decision,
but an offensive one, as well.
Rex is certainly right on this issue, but wrong about the weather, when he says about Newfoundland being special:
Newfoundland is unique. It stands alone, shrouded in impenetrable mists and answering to the rhythms of its own weather gods. Newfoundland weather is not a little like the world of subatomic physics; a buzz of random and paradoxical probabilities, a thing that may be observed but not measured or, contrariwise, measured but not observed, and not either, ever, from Halifax. It is a wonder and a despair.
The weather along the BC coast has been shrouded in impenetrable mists for most of this summer (if you can call it summer).
The decision by Coast Guard bureaucrats to replace the (70 foot, 21 metre) Point Henry in Prince Rupert with a smaller, (47 foot, 14 metre) open motor life boat and the similar move in Campbell River replace the Point Race was protested up and down the coast, and almost cost Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan his seat in the May election. Duncan, of course, is toeing the Conservative party line now that he is safely back in the Commons.
The decisions on both coasts are equally dumb. The ocean is as dangerous in Newfoundland as on the BC coast.
But Rex spoils his rant with his own dumb ideological conclusion:
My only explanation is that it serves to illustrate this unshakeable
axiom: Some decisions are so dumb that only governments can make them.
Northwest BC has had been the victim of many really dumb decisions by the private, corporate sector over the years and those dumb decisions are responsible for the economic decline of the region (with no help from government). The difference should be that government decisions may be influenced and changed by the electorate. There are no checks or balances on corporate decisions.
So if Rex is right and search and rescue is privatized, becomes some sort of for-profit venture, what dumb decisions are we going to hear from the CEO of SARCAN LLC? Checking someone’s credit score before launching a rescue?
The imminent loss of the Coast Guard cutters Point Henry and Point Race is solidifying opposition to proposed super tanker traffic on the coast, says NDP MP Nathan Cullen and the Living Oceans Society.
But Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan, who referred to the replacement boats as “less capable” in the past, continues to support replacement of the Point Race and Point Henry this week.
The 47-foot motor lifeboat CCGS Cape Palmerston is to be officially named and dedicated to service in Campbell River next Thursday, replacing the 70-foot Point Race. Ceremonies to replace Prince Rupert’s Point Henry with the CCGS Cape Dauphin are slated for July 26.