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MacGregor introduces bill to address freighter anchorages along the South Coast

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor has introduced a Private Member’s Bill in Ottawa to amend the Canada Shipping Act to prohibit the anchoring of freighter vessels using coastal waters along the Salish Sea.

It’s becoming a long-standing issue particularly for residents of Saltair, Chemainus, Thetis and Penelakut Islands, other Gulf Islands, Cowichan Bay, Ladysmith and Nanaimo.

“There have been many years of frustration in trying to address this issue with Transport Canada and Transport Minister Marc Garneau,” noted MacGregor in a statement. “Despite these efforts, the number of freighters, and the length of their stay at anchor off the southern coast of Vancouver Island, have both increased. In the absence of leadership from the federal government, I have decided that it is time put forward a bill to try and resolve this issue through legislative means.”

Some of the parked freighters are as large as 300 metres in size. In addition to the noise and light pollution, there are concerns about the affects to the marine environment.

The bill has support from First Nations, local government and community activist groups.

Repeated calls have been made by community groups and First Nations about protecting clam beds, prawns, oysters and endangered species, such as the southern resident killer whales, from the environmental impact of the anchored shipping vessels.

“The short- and long-term cumulative impacts on the marine ecosystems, local socio-economics, and pending disaster occurring while anchored or during transit to and from the Vancouver and Tsawwassen Port systems, need to be addressed,” stated Doug Fenton of Anchorages Concern Thetis. “The Southern Gulf Islands’ anchorage issues are an outstanding example of past practices going unmanaged and global corporations exploiting an aged mariners’ law for corporate gains.”

Related: Group taking action on increased freighter anchorages around Thetis Island

“For years, we’ve been calling on the federal government to work towards eliminating commercial freighters anchoring in the Southern Gulf Islands,” added Peter Luckham, chair of the Islands Trust Council. “It is wholly unacceptable for this region, recognized as having some of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems and many species at risk, to be used industrially as an overflow parking lot for the Port of Vancouver. Coastal communities have watched with dismay as the number of anchored vessels rises year after year while the federal government fails to act.”

“The Port of Vancouver’s inability to schedule and manage incoming bulk cargo ships efficiently is a problem with serious economic and environmental consequences,” pointed out Christopher Straw of the South Coast Ship Watch Alliance. “As that problem increasingly spills over into B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands, it is creating a financial drain on our national economy and threatening the ecological health of one of Canada’s most environmentally rich and important marine ecosystems. It’s time for Canada’s Minister of Transport to bring an end to this problem by directing all parties involved to create a modern, efficient and safe vessel arrival system.”

Resident concerns have also been abundant, partly due to safety issues. Just last week, Saltair resident Mary Desprez noticed a freighter dragging anchor towards Boulder Point, coming within 730 metres of the shore according to maps from the Port of Nanaimo.

“Captains are authorized to move the ships in an emergency – without a pilot – so they engaged the engines and repositioned it,” she explained.

It drifted really close again the next day, Desprez noted.

In February 2018, Transport Canada initiated its Interim Protocol for the Use of Southern B.C. Anchorages. The strategy is widely viewed by locals as a stopgap measure.

“The Interim Anchorages Protocol has proven to be totally inadequate in dealing with this problem,” MacGregor indicated. “The voluntary protocol measures installed by Transport Canada have been largely ignored and not enforced. Southern Vancouver Island and Gulf Island residents had hoped for, and deserve, more decisive action from their federal government.”

Through numerous round table discussions it became evident to MacGregor that First Nations were not consulted when the anchorages were first established.

“These freighters sometimes drag their anchor, disturbing our seabeds and harvesting areas,” noted Lyackson First Nation Chief Richard Thomas. “They have their lights on all night and make noise. They take away the beauty of our beaches. They harvest illegally and pollute our waters, and their proximity to our reserve lands makes our nation fearful of trespassers. We were never consulted on this and don’t support the freighters being in our waters.”

“Dialogue with government officials has confirmed that the pumping of ballast tanks, pumping of bilges, dragging of anchors, dumping of garbage and waste, and continuous noise from generators have combined to seriously threaten our livelihoods and traditional ways of life,” added Chief Joan Brown of Penelakut Tribe. “The federal government have the lawful obligation to consult with us prior to permitting freighter parking in our traditional waters. Penelakut Tribe have had absolutely no consultation from the Federal Government.”

The waters in the southern Salish Sea have been recognized by the federal government as part of its process in establishing a National Marine Conservation Area.

“If the federal government values these waters enough to establish a National Marine Conservation Area, then they also deserve protection from being used as an overflow industrial parking lot,” said MacGregor.

Don Bodger

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