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Freighter Anchorages: We Must Protect the Salish Sea

Updated: Nov 3, 2019

Over the past months, I have met with constituents and community leaders and heard repeated calls for a moratorium on freighter anchorages in the waters around the Southern Gulf Islands. Stz’uminus Chief John Elliott, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, Islands Trust Chair Peter Luckham, and the Cowichan Valley Regional District have all spoken out against these ships being parked in our coastal waters.

The serious problems with freighter anchorages were first brought to my attention in 2015 by the community group Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages (GAFA) when a series of freighter anchorages were proposed along the east coast of Gabriola Island. Since then, GAFA that has been working tirelessly to educate people about the environmental damage incurred by these anchorages and to push the federal government to take action on this issue. More recently representatives from the South Coast Ship Watch Alliance, a coalition of five community groups, including GAFA, approached me about the ongoing problems associated with Transport Canada's Interim Protocol for 33 freighter anchorages in the southern Gulf Islands.

On June 17th, my colleague Elizabeth May and I strongly criticized Transport Canada’s decision to extend the Interim Protocol for the Use of Southern B.C. Anchorages.

We asked for the removal of this free parking lot for freighters in our local waters and I pointed out how West Coast residents are suffering from noise and light pollution, dust from maintenance work and sewage dumping. I also pointed out the disruption of orca habitat and damage to the ocean floor.

As Elizabeth said, “Residents and wildlife should not have to suffer for the mistakes of Transport Canada. The Salish Sea is a sensitive ecosystem, home to endangered species like the southern resident killer whale whose habitat is being constantly invaded and threatened by the presence of these vessels.”

On September 4th I followed up with a letter to Marc Garneau, the Minister of Transport, urging him to phase out the shipment of US thermal coal through the Port of Vancouver. Not only are these coal shipments a disaster for the climate, the additional traffic increases wait times at the Port of Vancouver and contributed to the creation of the interim protocol.

Ship navigating through dozens of pleasure craft in Sansum Narrows near Salt Spring Island. (Photo: S. Cusack)

Why are they here? The Interim Protocol

The Canadian government recognized that there was a problem with waiting ships at the Port of Vancouver. In February 2018 an interim protocol was established to allow freighter anchorages in the Southern Gulf Island while a review of the issue was in progress. This protocol was expected to last for six months, and included guidelines on noise and light pollution. But the protocol has now been extended to July of 2020. Residents are not happy about the extension, nor are they confident that action will be taken by this date. There have been monthly reports from Transport Canada regarding how things are going with the interim protocol, but the review process is taking too long.

What many people find astonishing is that compliance with the protocol is voluntary. The shipping community seems to be on board with the protocol, and there is a means for complaint, but there is really very little that can be done if ships do not comply. Ships do need to abide by Canada’s shipping and environmental laws, but these laws do not cover all the issues that residents are experiencing.

The lack of consultation on this issue is unacceptable, and I will continue to urge Transport Canada to enforce removal of these intrusive freighters from southern B.C. anchorages.

Trincomali Channel, Thetis Island in Background (Photo: Laurie MacBride)

Contributing Factors

There are a number of factors that have led to the escalation of this situation.

Inefficiencies at the Port of Vancouver - There is room for a limited number of ships in the Port of Vancouver at any given time. If a ship is partially loaded, but has to wait before it can finish loading, it has to leave the port to make room for other ships to load/unload in the meantime. Some ships, especially grain ships, are making multiple trips back and forth from the port, taking many weeks before they are finally fully loaded and ready to sail. There are also inefficiencies with the wheat supply chain, especially with the carrying capacity of the railroads. It takes a lot of rail cars to fill a grain ship!

Downturn in the Economy - Empty ships waiting around can be a sign of a global economic downturn. Although Canada has a strong economy, various international issues have contributed to a slowdown in global shipping traffic. Some ships are parking here because they are not in a hurry to pick up or drop off their cargo somewhere else.

Canada offers Free Parking - Because there is no charge for anchoring in the Salish Sea, it makes it attractive for international ships to wait here, rather than in some other country or port that is going to charge fees. It’s not fair to the residents of Vancouver Island that our coastline has become a parking lot because our country offers free parking.

US Coal Shipments - A number of port cities along the US west coast have been working to curb or even eliminate coal shipments. A number of these ports have declined permits to expand to export more coal, despite appeals from the Trump administration to do so. With the decreasing usage of coal in the US, western American coal producers are now pushing to export more coal off the west coast to Asian markets. Unfortunately, Canada has opened the Port of Vancouver to export this American coal. This is a big issue in and of itself, and one of the impacts is that coal ships park in our waters while waiting their turn to load.

Harbour seals near Penelakut and Secretary Islands (Photo: Laurie MacBride)

Action is Required

I would like to see the elimination of the 33 commercial anchorages throughout the Southern Gulf Islands. Even if the voluntary interim protocol were to be replaced with something more restrictive, this would not eliminate many of the issues experienced by residents.

We need to evaluate the supply chain of grain to the Port of Vancouver, and to eliminate the long wait times for grain ships to fill. Work is being done on this issue, but it is far from resolved.

We also need to stop shipping US coal through our ports. This will require some careful renegotiation of our trade agreements with the US, but Canada should not be assisting a foreign country in exporting one of the most polluting forms of energy on earth.

Trincomali Anchorages, near De Courcy Island cottages (Photo: Laurie MacBride)


Have your Say: This link will take you to a Government website where you can submit your input on various ocean and vessel management issues. The deadline for input on some issues is September 30, 2019 -

For details on the voluntary Interim Protocol: There are six anchorages governed by the Nanaimo Port Authority that are not part of the interim protocol. Rules governing these anchorages can be found at this link: The Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages Society are group of volunteers committed to one common objective – to stop the designation of anchorages off Gabriola’s shoreline. Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages (GAFA)

The South Coast Ship Watch Alliance is a coalition of community groups in the Southern Gulf Islands, Cowichan Bay, Ladysmith and Saltair. South Coast Ship Watch Alliance - No Freighter Anchorages

Thank-you to photographer Laurie MacBride for the photos -


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