A new citizen group on Thetis Island is campaigning to keep huge ocean-going freighters from parking in Trincomali Channel on the east side of the island. Following is an account of recent developments from Anchorages Concern Thetis (ACT):
The group was formed last spring in response to an almost year-long large increase in the number of ships anchored at six fixed sites, some staying for more than 40 days. Most of the freighters have been waiting to take grain on board from Vancouver docks or coal from Roberts Bank.
Some 44 islanders attended a public meeting called by ACT Aug. 8 at the Thetis Community Hall.
“We are grateful and encouraged by support we received from our neighbours, many who are not directly affected by the 24-hour sounds, lights and sight of these ships,” said Zdenek Brich, the group’s founder.
“These ships represent a heavy, intrusive industry in a pristine area of British Columbia set aside by special legislation for preservation and protection.
“We’ve learned a lot in a hurry - that anchoring here is unregulated, harms our social and natural environments, affects our First Nations neighbours, and that it’s all unnecessary.”
ACT surveyed governments and shipping groups to find out what they know about the anchored ships’ environmental impacts on Trincomali.
“We received lots of speculation and generalizations, but nothing specific to Trincomali,” noted Brich. “Those ships are sent here with no idea - and, seemingly, no care - about the damage they do.
“The official justification for this unmeasured harm is that it’s the price Canada, a trading nation, pays to help keep our economy robust. It’s a false argument. Long-term parking is evidence of industry inefficiency. They contribute to global warming, but nothing to the economy. There’s no parking fee. They’re a negative for property values and recreation and tourism.”
ACT’s current initiatives include: writing to Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, preparing input for the new federal Oceans Protection Plan; cooperating with similar anchorage groups on Gabriola Island, Cowichan Bay and South Pender Island; and seeking support from Islands Trust. An ACT request to have the big ships slow to four knots in the channel for the safety of pleasure craft, kayakers and other traffic was rejected by the Pacific Pilotage Authority.
Here are highlights from ACT’s environmental committee’s preliminary report:
- Huge anchor chains scouring the ocean floor and kicking up sedimentation that destroys fish and other marine species habitat is a worldwide environmental abuse. Chains are four to 10 times longer than the distance between the ship and the sea bottom, so when the ship swings with wind, current and tide, the chains can become giant indiscriminate sea-bed scrapers.
- Anchor loss and anchor dragging can result in ships running aground, colliding with other ships, spilling oil and cargo, polluting shorelines and protected areas.
- Noise. According to research by Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages, “underwater sound generated by ships has the potential to alter the behaviour and threaten the livelihood of marine animals.” Noise contributes to the feared ecocide of southern resident killer whales, frequently seen in Thetis waters.
- Discharges. Learning about ship discharges has frustrated ACT. The group has photographs of discharges from the ships but no definite description of what the fluids contain. There’s an ongoing fear of importing invasive species.
- Sewage and garbage. There’s also no information how both are disposed by ships parked in Trincomali. There are 68,000 ocean-going vessels in the world and cruise ships alone dump one billion gallons of waste into the sea every year. Some environmentalists believe much of this waste is ejected too close to shore for comfort. Mayne Island Trustee Jeanine Dodds described anchorages in all Gulf Islands waters as “an unregulated garbage dump.”
- ACT received no direct input from the province. B.C. owns the waters and submerged lands of the Strait of Georgia and some other inland marine areas. So, while the right to anchor a vessel is part of the common law right of navigation, anchoring is to be temporary. In land-use law, a visitor is one who stays fewer than 30 days; those who stay longer are residents. Two years ago B.C.’s highest court ruled the constitutional right to anchor a vessel is limited to a ‘reasonable time, for a reasonable purpose’. ACT believes long-term vessel parking is a storage, not shipping function. ACT sides with the classic court argument that “a man may not use the highway to stable his horse.” The province should claim and manage its jurisdiction.
- The province should get involved, too, because Trincomali Channel is in the Islands Trust, an area including land and sea encompassing the southern Gulf Islands, a place of natural wonder set aside for preservation and protection. The province and Trust have the legislative and moral authority and duty to protect Trincomali’s natural environment and that should require it’s kept free of large vessel anchorages.