Calls for Vessel Arrival System at Port of Vancouver

Elected officials and First Nations are asking the Canadian federal government to address ‘problems with freighter anchorages’ in the Southern Gulf Islands by implementing a Vessel Arrival System (VAS) at the Port of Vancouver.

The request comes three years after Transport Canada created the Interim Protocol covering 33 designated anchorage sites in and around the Southern Gulf Islands. However, the group argue that these sites are now in ‘near-constant use’ by foreign bulk freighters waiting to load cargo at the Port of Vancouver.

Last week, MP Paul Manly sent a letter to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra signed by local community leaders representing the areas affected by the anchorages. MPs, MLAs, First Nations leaders, Regional District of Nanaimo board members, the Cowichan Valley Regional District board, the Capital Regional District board and the Islands Trust board have all signed the letter.

On 11 May, Manly tabled Motion M-85 calling on the government to implement a Vessel Arrival System. The letter to the Transport Minister, which is based on Manly’s research, outlines solutions implemented by other jurisdictions that have dealt with similar anchorage problems.

Manly said that the Port of Newcastle in Australia had had ‘similar issues with inefficiencies and large numbers of freighters at anchor’. He noted that residents had complained but the government failed to act until a freighter dragged anchor and washed up on a local popular beach.

Manly said that following the incident, Newcastle implemented a Vessel Arrival System that requires freighters to contact the port 14 days ahead of their anticipated arrival and that port authorities can then require a vessel to slow down to match its arrival to its loading time at the port.

According to Manly, the system has been a ‘success’, with two-thirds of vessels loading at Newcastle no longer anchoring at all, and the remainder have dropped from an average of eleven days at anchor to just three days.

It was also noted that slowing freighters down for just-in-time loading has the added benefit of burning less bunker fuel at sea and burning less diesel at anchor, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating cost savings for the shipping companies.

‘Implementing a Vessel Arrival System is a sensible solution. We’ve almost had our own Newcastle beach moment twice here in the Southern Gulf Islands,’ said Manly. ‘In March 2020 a freighter dragged anchor and collided with another freighter in Plumper Sound, puncturing the hull of the second freighter. A month later another freighter dragged anchor and almost reached the shore near Transfer Beach in Ladysmith.

‘Transport Canada must act and implement efficiencies at the Port of Vancouver before we have a disaster on our coast.’

Rhys Berry