Huge freighters are seemingly always parked around the waters off Thetis Island and Saltair. (Photo submitted)

Inaction on heavy freighter presence continues to irk Island residents

Extension of interim protocol for another year concerning for people in Saltair, on Thetis Island

The large number of huge freighters consistently parked on the waters around Thetis Island and Saltair remains a huge concern for residents of those areas.

Ottawa’s program to provide relief to residents bothered by ocean-going vessel anchorages has been a failure, a Thetis Island group has concluded.

“And this month we’ve learned that Transport Canada has extended their failed ‘interim protocol’ for another year,” Zdenek Brich, founder of Anchorages Concern Thetis (ACT) said. “The protocol expired August 8.”

A growing number of vessels, waiting to get into Vancouver and Roberts Bank, are parking in waters close to residences on Thetis and neighbouring islands. Groups such as ACT were formed to respond to the unacceptable nuisance — noise, night lights and visual blight — and unstudied and unregulated pollution and environmental harm brought by the ships.

Modest targets to fairly distribute anchorage uses among all affected communities and improve ‘ship behaviour’ were not reached since the voluntary protocol was initiated, Brich says. For example, ships often park close to residences while remote anchorage sites remain vacant. Some ignore the ban on industrial on-board daytime work. Responses by authorities to ACT comments and complaints have been stonewalled. Updated data and justification for the anchorages have not been made public.

ACT detailed these anchorage problems and offered solutions in a letter to Transport Canada this month. The group wants the new protocol to last only one year. The first six months would track financial costs to the public and shipping industry and the reasons offered for the anchorages, all information to be made public. In the second six months, anchoring would be prohibited except for emergency stays of no more than three days. ACT is also drafting petitions to be presented by area politicians to the provincial and federal governments to ultimately ban the anchorages from Gulf Island waters.

Following are issues highlighted in ACT activity this month:

All freighters in Trincomali Channel, on Thetis’ east side, in recent months head to Roberts Bank to pick up United States thermal coal to deliver to coal-fired generating plants overseas. At more than 40 percent, burning thermal coal is the single greatest contributor to world greenhouse gas emissions. These freighters — last week blowing their foghorns in thick wildfire smoke — are symbols of Canada’s complicity in aiding global warming, excused as ‘serving the national interest.’

ACT fears the federal multi-billion dollar Oceans Protection Plan will install permanent anchorage sites in the Gulf Islands. No evidence has been uncovered that shows the sites’ current status is legitimate. ACT says their destructive uses occur in part because both local and provincial governments have failed to exercise their responsibility to uphold anti-anchorage bylaws and their duty to protect the ocean environment for future generations. Ironically, the provincially-legislated Islands Trust Act mandates the preservation and protection of the Gulf Islands land and sea as a special environmental treasure for all of B.C. residents.

Continuation of the anchorage management protocol has been made with no request for input from Thetis people. ACT is requesting Transport Canada to hold its next anchorage meeting on Vancouver Island.

Brich explained that during the proposed three-month anchorage moratorium, ship agents and the Port of Vancouver would request vessels to slow down in order to arrive in B.C. waters at the time when goods are ready to load. Fuel consumption and various economic and social costs related to that strategy would be compared to those of the present method of anchorage visits that last up to 40 days and findings would be made public.

Meanwhile, the Saltair Ocean Protection Committee has sent a letter to Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, according to Mary Desprez, as communities all around the Southern Gulf Islands are trying to stop the region from being turned into a free parking lot for commercial freighters.

Committee member Kay Morisset noted there have been four international freighters parked in the Ladysmith/Chemainus/Saltair area since Aug. 8.

“This is the result of the extension of the interim protocol initiated by Transport Canada for another 12 months,” she noted. “Our area is targeted. Coastal wildlife habitats, recreational areas and communities are at risk.”

According to one observation from a resident: “These tankers are huge, they affect the entire harbour even when there is only one at anchorage and I have seen four and five parked here at times. They light up the sky at night, are noisy, and have been witnessed and photographed discharging fluids into the harbour. This area is home to a large number of seniors who are affected by this and have trouble sleeping and I can only imagine what it’s doing to our wildlife and ecological system.”

Morisset added the area relies on tourism, an industry much better suited to the locale. “The sight of these enormous, unattractive vessels has been commented on by visitors and family I have had here this past year and I can only imagine what image people who travel from around the world to our area take home with them.”

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