Freighter fiasco highlights growing risk in Salish Sea

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The toxic fumes that escaped from the Zim Kingston container ship put a fiery exclamation mark on a long-held argument by Washington environmental groups – that state, tribal and local governments should have more of a say in them. major Canadian development projects that can have a negative impact on our environment and livelihoods.

More recently, the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project appears destined for approval despite the fact that container ship traffic to and from it will further threaten the endangered southern resident killer whales. Proposed to be built in the subtidal waters of the Fraser River delta adjacent to the Westshore coal terminal just north of the Canadian border, the new terminal would eliminate 442 acres of chinook salmon habitat, which is essential for killer whales. Juvenile salmon shelter and feed in eelgrass beds, while migratory sandpipers frequent nearby mudflats.

And in 2019, Canada approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project despite widespread recognition that a major crude oil spill from the tar sands would prove disastrous. Both projects dramatically increase the risk of accidents and oil spills, and exacerbate already high levels of underwater noise in critical habitat for these killer whales.

The gigantic “Mega-Max” container ships that would call at the planned terminal are more than four times the size of the Zim Kingston and can carry five times as many containers. They are comparable to the gigantic Ever Given ship that ran aground in the Suez Canal in March.

Once built, the terminal would increase the capacity of the Port of Vancouver for these massive container ships and promote additional marine traffic – up to 520 transits per year – in the waters of the Salish Sea. Add in the nearly 700 additional annual tanker transits expected from Trans Mountain crude shipments, and more than three other large, noisy ocean-going vessels per day would pass through these waters.

Mega Max container ships can carry around 4 million gallons of propellant fuel, which could lead to a widespread oil spill after a collision or grounding. Such an incident anywhere in the Salish Sea would be devastating, but if it happened in the narrow Haro Strait waterways between San Juan and the Vancouver Islands – where salmon pass by and orcas feed on them – that would be a total disaster. Ships must make a sharp right-angled turn at the northern end of the strait, where strong winter winds could strike a large vessel from the edge and cause it to deviate from course.

As Ever Given and Zim Kingston amply demonstrated, serious shipping accidents do happen. Who knew that the latter was carrying dangerous cargo that could ignite? Fortunately, two tugs equipped with firefighting equipment found themselves moored nearby and were able to contain the blaze, possibly averting disaster.

And what about the more than 100 containers that fell into the sea earlier, most of which must have landed on the seabed? Two of them are said to have carried several tonnes of the explosive compound potassium amyl xanthate which caused the fire, which dissolves in water and is “toxic to aquatic life with long-term effects”, according to the police. chemical literature. Four containers have already drifted ashore at isolated and pristine Cape Scott near the northern end of Vancouver Island, littering the shore with debris.

Did Canada’s environmental review of the terminal project provide for such possibilities?

He certainly did not adequately address the negative impacts on Washington’s environmental, economic, and cultural resources. The review panel recognized, however, that the terminal would inevitably have “significant adverse and cumulative effects” on chinook salmon and southern resident killer whales. And the increase in underwater noise due to the many transits of ships is inevitable.

Washington State has made major commitments to the protection and recovery of these killer whales, their critical habitat in the Salish Sea and their food supply, which is based on the prosperity of chinook salmon. The proposed terminal would therefore threaten the encouraging progress made so far on the recommendations of the governor’s orca working group.

Given these commitments and investments, it seems essential that Washington state officials be involved in the terminal’s decision-making process. Governor Jay Inslee or his representatives should be part of the final decision. They could, for example, require container ships using the terminal to be certified low noise vessels – or slow down when killer whales are nearby – and work with Canadian authorities to establish an emergency tug stationed near the Strait of Haro.

Supporters of these transportation projects have also ignored their profound cultural impacts on tribes north and south of the border, especially those who hold treaty rights to fish the waters of the Salish Sea. During the 2019 final hearings, several tribal chiefs voiced their opposition to the project due to the inevitable threats it poses to Indigenous ways of life, calling for a moratorium on any other Salish Sea stressors.

Whatever happens, a comprehensive, cross-border and cumulative impact study on maritime traffic and related development projects is obviously long overdue, as is an agreed baseline for the sustainable cultural and ecological vitality of this fertile sea. but fragile.

Lovel Pratt, Friends of the San Juans’ director of marine policy and protection, contributed to this editorial.


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