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.

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.

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.

Enbridge presents strong case for marine safety planning

Enbridge made its strongest public case yet Tuesday, March 13, that improvements in marine safety worldwide since the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, make the chances of an accident involving ships carrying bitumen and condensate in Douglas Channel and the BC Coast highly unlikely.

But one of Enbridge’s own invited experts somewhat undermined the case by pointing out that in the event of a major tanker incident (as unlikely as Enbridge believes it may be) the resources of the federal and provincial governments are spread far too thin to deal with a major disaster.

The Enbridge Community Advisory Board held a public meeting Tuesday at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre, with three guests presenting a case that they also gave to the regular meeting of the advisory board earlier in the day.

The three guests were Capt. Stephen Brown, of the BC Chamber of Shipping, Capt. Fred Denning, of British Columbia Coast Pilots and Norm Fallows, an emergency response officer with the BC Ministry of the Environment, based in Smithers.

There were only a few dozen people in the theatre for the presentation, compared the full house for last year’s community forum that was sponsored by the District of Kitimat. One reason may be that many Kitimat residents preferred being in the stands for the Coy Cup hockey championships at Tamitik Arena rather than sitting through yet another presentation on the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Denning opened the presentations by explaining the role of the BC Coast Pilots. The BC Coast Pilots is a private firm that contracts with government’s Pacific Pilotage Authority to provide pilots to ships plying the coast of British Columbia. By law all vessels larger than 350 gross registered tonnes are required to use a marine pilot.

Both in his presentation and in the question and answer period, Denning stressed that pilots are traditionally independent from government and industry, with the responsibility to ensure the safety of shipping.

In the question and answer period, when an audience member pointed out that under the Transport Canada TERMPOL process, use of tugs in Douglas Channel and use of tethered tugs was “voluntary,” Denning replied that the pilots would be insisting on tethered escort tugs for tankers on Douglas Channel.

He explained that BC pilots are highly experienced mariners, usually with 25 years or more experience on the coast, the majority of that time as a ship’s officer. An applicant to become a pilot is put on a waiting list, and if accepted, then is trained both on ships and simulators and serves a six to 12 month apprenticeship.

He said that BC coastal pilots have a 99.89 per cent incident safety record.

BC pilots now carry a large laptop called a Portable Pilot Unit, which operates independent of the ship’s navigation and computer systems gathering navigation and other data, as a redundant safety system.

Denning expects that marine traffic on the BC coast will continue to increase because the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert are the closest to Asia by the Great Circle routes. Both cargo and the energy projects, whether the Enbridge Northern Gateway or the the liquified natural gas terminals will mean more ships and more work for the pilots.

The pilots are always consulted in the development of any new traffic or terminal projects in BC. Including design, testing the ship’s courses in simulators, recommending new navigational aides and training for the pilots. Pilots were consulted during the development of Deltaport and Fairiew container terminals as well as the cruise ship terminals in Victoria, Nanaimo and Campbell River.

The pilots are being consulted on both the Enbridge and LNG projects at Kitimat as well as the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan facility in Vancouver. For the existing Kinder Morgan terminal, pilots were involved in creating navigation aides and tug procedures for the Second Narrows.

Stephen Brown is a member of the Community Advisory Board as well as representing the Bureau of Shipping. He began with a detailed timeline of how shipping regulations have been tightened over the years since what is now the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency, was founded in 1948. He said the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989 triggered even tighter regulations, including the 1990 US Oil Pollution Act passed by Congress which required all ships have containment capability and a spill clean up plan. The act also ordered US shippers to phase out single hulled tankers beginning in 1995. In 1992, the IMO adopted a similar measure.
Since the 1990s, there have been new regulations preventing the dumping of ballast and creating higher standards for crew and officer training, including hours of work, watch keeping standards and environmental awareness.

Brown then went on to discuss shipping in narrow waterways which he said were similar to Douglas Channel, including the Straits of Dover between Britain and France, the Straits of Malacca between Singapore and Malaysia and the island of Sumatra, the Dardanelles and Bosporus Strait in Turkey (which traditionally are said to join Europe with Asia) and the Panama Canal. All those areas, he said, see heavy shipping traffic, including tankers, each year.

The narrowest passage is in the Bosporus, which is 698 metres wide, a little less than one half nautical mile.

Comparing the Bosporus with Douglas Channel, Brown said Douglas Channel is much wider, about three kilometres, meaning that inbound and outbound ships can pass a half kilometre apart.
He went over how tanker management has improved with double hulls and better overall construction standards,vetting of ships and crews, and creating “a culture of safety and respect for the environment.”

The final speaker Norm Fallows, from the BC Ministry of the Environment Emergency Management,  outlined the current emergency response system in the province. Central to any response to a oil spill or any other hazard materials problem is the “incident command system.” also used most often for fighting forest fires. The incident command system ensures that all public agencies and the private sector are cooperating and coordinating with one overall person in charge.

The province has a “polluter pay” policy, Fallows said, meaning that the “responsible party” must pay for all the cost involved. Sometimes, int he case of a meth lab, it is the unfortunate owner of a house that may have been rented by drug dealers.

Fallows said he is one of only 10 emergency response officers stationed across the province of British Columbia, In contrast, the State of Washington, with a much smaller land area than BC, has 79.

Any response to a spill has to do the best possible in the situation, Fallows said. He gave the example of burning off an oil spill in some circumstances because that was both the most cost effective solution that at the same time in those circumstances did the least harm to the environment.

In the early part of the first decade, Fallows said, some staff at the environment department were proposing what was called “Geographic Response Planning,” which involved surveying an area for both potential hazards and solutions, and bringing in local responders including fire, police and local industry. Planning for the GRP program had minimal funding, which was later dropped by the province.

In contrast, Fallows said, the state of Washington has spent millions of dollars creating a geographic response program for that state.

In response to questions from the audience, Fallows said that adequate emergency response in British Columbia needed “more resources” from both the provincial and federal governments.

Washington State proposes converting ferries to LNG


The Seattle Times reports Plan would convert ferries to liquefied natural gas

A proposal to convert six Washington state ferries to liquefied natural gas could save nearly $10 million a year, consultants have told top Washington legislators.

The conversions of the Issaquah-class ferries would cost $65 million, but consultant Cedar River Group said the money would be paid back in seven years through fuel savings.

The six ferries have a life expectancy of 30 more years…

If the state were to convert the six Issaquah-class ferries built in the 1980s — the Cathlamet, Chelan, Issaquah, Kitsap, Kittitas and Sealth — they would be the first ferries fueled by liquefied natural gas in the nation.

Chinese agri giant tours Kitimat harbour, evaluating facilities


A delegation from the giant Chinese state owned agribusiness, Heilongjiang Beidahuang Nongken Group Co. (Beidahuang Group) toured Kitimat and Kitimat harbour Thursday, to evaluate the harbour for possible expansion beyond the current facilities owned by Rio Tinto Alcan and  the Methanex/ Cenovus Energy terminal purchased Wednesday by Shell Canada.

 Accompanying the delegation from the Beidahuang Group were executives from  Hangfeng Evergeen, one of the world’s major producers of fertilizer, with headquarters in Toronto, but with most of its business in China and Southeast Asia.

Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said the delegation is on a tour of British Columbia ports looking for the best place to ship  agricultural products to and from China. Monaghan said that when the delegation met with BC premier Christy Clark earlier, Clark suggested that they include Kitimat on their itinerary.

In China, Beidahuang operates 104 state-owned farms, supplying crops to Beijing, Shanghai, and the military, using about 1,400,000 tonnes of fertilizer a year.

 As an exporter, Beidahuang sells kidney beans, green mung beans, small red beans, cow peas, and soybeans to Canada, South America, South Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe.

Beidahuang has been aggressively expanding its holdings around the world in the past few years, purchasing or developing agricultural holdings in Canada, Russia, the Philippines, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. As an importer, Beidahuang deals in wheat, corn, soybeans, fruit and vegetables and wine. The company also has holdings in oil and mining.

In 2010, Hanfeng Evergreen signed a joint venture  agreement with Beidahuang to establish a fertilizer factory in northern Heilongjiang province

Monaghan said the delegation was looking at possibly either new or expanded port facilities in Kitimat to handle the import and export of the agricultural products and fertilizers. It will be some time before any decision is made, since the delegation will return to China and evaluate its tour before making any decision.

Beidahuang’s world wide expansion has been somewhat controversial. 

Bloomberg reported that Beidahuang’s $1.5 billion investment in Argentina’s Patagonia, which would include upgrading unused land and expanding port facilities there, brought objections from local farmers and activists because the agreement with government of Rio Negro province means farmers “will be kept captive by the Chinese for 20 years” since the agreement would force farmers to sell their produce to Beidahuang.

Beidahuang is also heavily investing in palm oil plantations across Southeast Asia, which brings objections from environmental activists who say vulnerable and valuable tropical rainforest is destroyed so the palm oil plantations can be established.

US, European companies looking at LNG powered ships

Energy Environment Shipping

    As one ship  is grounded off New Zealand, causing an environmental “catastrophe”  and a second is grounded off  Nova Scotia,  a shipping company in New Orleans has announced that it will commission two vessels powered by a duel fuel system that includes liquified natural gas.

Harvey Gulf International Marine of New Orleans, Louisiana and Trinity Offshore of Gulfport, Mississippi said Friday it will build two offshore 92 metre (302 foot)  supply vessels, with a price tag of $55 million each with an option for a third. These vessels will service the oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans City Business report

The vessels will also have environmental features to meet US  ENVIRO+ Green Passport Certification by the American Bureau of Shipping.

The ship’s propulsion system will be built by a Finnish company called Wärtsilä, which specializes in natural gas power plants on  land and integrated marine engine systems, as well as designing ships, including large ferries.

581-lngboat_500x285.jpg Wärtsilä

In a news release, John Hatley, a vice president of Wärtsilä North America remarked that “We are witnessing a transformation of the marine industry as it charts a course towards a new era for natural gas. It’s exciting for Wärtsilä to be a trusted partner in this launch with industry leader Harvey Gulf, whose natural gas supply vessel investment actions of today signal a coming paradigm shift. This is aimed at capturing operational savings while simultaneously reducing emissions.”

The company website says it supplies power systems for LNG carriers as well as container vessels, bulk carriers, drilling rigs and ships, offshore research vessels, floating production units, cruise ships  and  yachts.

The duel fuel system combines conventional marine fuel systems, gasoline, light fuel, heavy fuel or biofuel with liguified natural gas.

European shipping companies are adopting the duel fuel technology to meet emission standards that come into effect 2013.


The website says

This dual-fuel capability means that when running in gas mode, the environmental impact is minimized since nitrogen oxides (NOx) are reduced by some 85 per cent compared to diesel operation, sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions are completely eliminated as gas contains no sulphur, and emissions of CO2 are also lowered. Natural gas has no residuals, and thus the production of particulates is practically non-existent.

The shipping industry finds the operational savings that gas offers to be very compelling. Similarly, the significant environmental benefits that LNG fuel provides are of increasing importance. With fossil fuel prices, and especially the cost of low sulphur marine fuel, likely to continue to escalate, gas is an obvious economic alternative.

Two-stroke engine

On September 23, Wärtsilä, announced that it is now working on a two-stroke liquified natural gas engine.  The website says:

Wärtsilä… has successfully tested its new low-speed gas engine technology in trials conducted at the company’s facilities in Trieste, Italy…. 
Wärtsilä successfully demonstrated that the engine performance fully complies with the upcoming IMO Tier III nitrogen oxide (NOx) limits, thereby setting a new benchmark for low-speed engines running on gas.

The new RTX5 2-stroke test engine is part of Wärtsilä’s 2-stroke dual-fuel gas engine technology development programme. This is an important part of the company’s strategy to lower emissions, increase efficiency and to develop its low-speed engine portfolio to include dual-fuel gas engines alongside its medium-speed dual-fuel engines.
“The decision to initiate this project was announced in February 2011, just seven months ago. The fact that we have already conducted a successful test shows that our gas engine technology is at the forefront of meeting the future needs of shipping, a future that stipulates more stringent environmental regulation….

The tests with the RTX5 engine will continue during the autumn and winter of this year, and into 2012. More details about the engine technology and its performance will be announced upon completion of the programme.