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Editorial: Charting a New Course for a Safer Shipping Industry


Not all marine shipping risks can be prevented, but we can learn from incidents like the Marathassa to keep our shipping lanes both safe and open for business.

Charting a New Course for a Safer Shipping Industry

By Dr. Richard Wiefelspuett, Executive Director – Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping

Canada’s major ports link us to over 160 countries around the globe.

Every day, bulk carriers, container ships, tankers and other merchant vessels ferry all types of raw materials and processed goods up and down our coastlines and waterways, playing an integral role in Canada’s growing economy.

But as our trade with other countries continues to increase, along with its associated marine traffic, so do the inherent risks of those operations.

At Port Metro Vancouver alone, there are as many as 20 deep-sea vessels at anchorage or at terminals at any given time. These ships are part of the billions of dollars in trade to and from Canada.

Last April, one of the those ships, the bulk carrier M/V Marathassa, whilst at anchor accidentally discharged approximately 2,700 litres of toxic bunker fuel into English Bay, a Vancouver hot-spot for local boaters, swimmers and kayakers.

As the Marathassa spill has demonstrated, along with other incidents like it around the world, the risks and consequences of marine shipping accidents are real, even when ships are resting at anchor without cargo.

The Canadian Coast Guard has now released a review of the incident, highlighting what went well and identifying 25 areas of improvement. A common theme throughout the report is a need for more timely information, better response protocols and more coordinated communication.

Encouragingly, the report also noted that “[shipping industry] partners welcomed the opportunity to participate in meaningful engagement on ways to improve oil spill response and are prepared to continue to build these relationships.”

At Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping, we intend to be part of this discussion. Our mandate is to provide impartial, evidence-based and publicly available information about marine shipping in Canada.

Officially launched in July, we are an independent, not-for-profit research organization with a focus on marine industry risks, mitigation measures and best practices for safe and sustainable marine operations. Our vision is national in scope, encompassing environmental, social and economic impacts of the shipping industry.

The Marathassa review confirms that that even with comprehensive rules and stringent regulatory oversight, accidents still occur. Canadians are well aware of this and continue to voice considerable concern over the potential risks of increased marine shipping in our waters. Now, more than ever, there is a need for informed dialogue regarding marine shipping, based on unbiased research.

Our work will address all types of marine shipping in Canada – all of which carry different types of risks during different phases of each journey, whether at anchor, in transit, or docked at a quay. We will look at the mitigation measures in place and will review best industry practices internationally. Our research will inform policy makers and the public on the specific challenges each of our coastlines and waterways poses for the shipping industry. We will explore rooms for improvement and present leading technologies for safe and sustainable shipping worldwide, make policy recommendations and help facilitate open dialogue with groups and communities most affected by marine shipping.

As recommended in the Marathassa review, meaningful engagement with all partners in the shipping industry is critical to learning from this particular incident and finding ways to prevent or respond to others like it in the future. As part of our work at Clear Seas, we look forward to engaging with coastal communities, Aboriginal groups, all levels of government, NGOs, the shipping community and other stakeholders to better understand their concerns and their questions.

Not all marine shipping risks can be prevented, but we can learn from incidents like the Marathassa to keep our shipping lanes both safe and open for business.

Dr. Richard Wiefelspuett is the Executive Director of Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping in Vancouver, BC.

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