COLUMN: A lesson in need for preparedness

The disabled, and subsequently rescued Russian container freighter over the weekend was a huge wake-up call to British Columbians ...

On the Other Hand by Mark Rushton

The disabled, and subsequently rescued Russian container freighter over the weekend was a huge wake-up call to British Columbians and for the federal government.

The Simushir appears to be a modern, well-maintained ship, yet for some reason lost power and was essentially adrift only 12 or so miles off the coast of Haida Gwaii.

The stars were aligned, it seems – no powerful storm hampering recovery efforts, a fortuitous visit to Prince Rupert by an American heavy rescue tug and a Canadian Coast Guard vessel in proximity.

The Coast Guard, despite breaking a towline two or three times, did manage at one nautical mile an hour to pull the Simushir a little further out to sea before the rescue tug completed its 24-hour trip from Rupert to the stricken vessel.

That the Russian ship was a container cargo carrier rather than an oil tanker was also a bit of a blessing. Had it run aground, it was ‘only’ carrying hundreds of tonnes of oil rather than the 50-million-plus gallons of crude that a tanker has within its holds.

And while we all remember the devastation that occurred in Alaska when the Exxon Valdez struck a rock in Prince William Sound, we tend to forget that every day there are many tankers cruising our coastline carrying vast quantities of crude bound from Alaska to Washington and California ports.

Anyone living on the western slope of Sumas Mountain in Abbotsford can see the lights and flares of Cherry Point, Washington’s largest oil refinery, just seven miles south of the Peace Arch. Tankers that have sailed along our coast, renowned in the annals of maritime history as the “Graveyard of the Pacific,” discharge their loads there daily.

From now until spring, the coastal storms will be relentless, and should one of those hundreds of tankers that ply the Alaska run suffer the same mechanical failure as the Simushir, the potential for an environmental calamity is huge. Except for the waters in the vicinity of Vancouver, Canada has no heavy rescue tugs on our coast.

What happened this weekend should – must – be a warning shot across the bow of the federal government as it presses to have “in our national interest,” the Northern Gateway oil pipeline deliver Alberta crude our north coast.

Adding hundreds more tankers to the hundreds already plying our coast makes the need for large rescue tugs mandatory, and not just if and when the oil starts to flow through Enbridge’s pipeline.

We can’t continue to rely on luck that an American tug will be in the vicinity, and we can’t rely on Canadian Coast Guard vessels that have neither the power nor the equipment to adequately rescue massive tankers, or for that matter, the 137-metre Simushir. Broken towlines and one mile an hour prove that out.

The feds have budgeted billions on replacement vessels for the Canadian Navy, and are spending a great many more millions trying to keep our second-hand submarines afloat, yet one of the world’s most pristine coastlines is under daily threat of environmental catastrophe without any protection.

The Simushir was a valuable lesson in what can go wrong while, through luck and circumstance, disaster was averted.

I would like to think the federal government has learned from this, and will act with speed to acquire such rescue vessels, and in the meantime, contract a commercial tug to be on standby on our northern coast.

Otherwise, a massive environmental disaster on our shorelines will kiss off Northern Gateway “national interest” forever.

markrushton@abbynews.com

 

Just Posted

Chilliwack Fire Department on scene at a house fire on Boundary Road and No. 4 Road on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (David Seltenrich/ Facebook)
Fire crews respond to house fire on border of Chilliwack and Abbotsford

Flames, dark smoke reported coming from front of house when crews arrived

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

AHL president and CEO Scott Howson believes the new Abbotsford franchise is off to a strong early start. (AHL photo)
AHL president: ‘Tremendous success’ selling season ticket deposits for Abbotsford franchise

President and CEO Scott Howson optimistic about new Vancouver Canucks affiliate in Abbotsford

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated in Abbotsford for construction workers

Among three sites in Lower Mainland holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

Most Read