Island councils renew appeal to Canada for salvage tug Sidney – Saanich News

The Island Trust and San Juan County councils have renewed their request for a salvage tug to be positioned in Sidney, following fears of potentially devastating oil spills for island communities late last year .

A letter from the Gulf and San Juan Island councils was sent to the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada in late January. The Canadian and American island assemblies have said that two emergency towing vessels are not enough to provide towns in the two archipelagos with adequate protection from oil spills or incidents like the M/V Zim Kingston last fall. (At the end of October, the Zim Kingston, a South Korean freighter, was rendered almost completely inoperable after it caught fire and sent more than 100 cargo containers adrift off Vancouver Island.) The solution, they said, is a permanent salvage tug in Sidney.

Turn Point on Stuart Island is “probably one of the most significant pinch points for freighter, tanker and large vessel traffic on the west coast (of Canada),” said Peter Luckman, president of the Island. Trust Council.

San Juan County Councilor Stephen Jaime described the Straits of Georgia-Juan de Fuca link as a “roundabout” for shipping vessels to Vancouver or Bellingham, Wash., with 70% of ship traffic at the departure from Canada. The Port of Vancouver is forecasting an increase to 12 ships per day by 2026, out of the nine daily arrivals currently seen.

Turn Point on Stuart Island is, according to the Island Trust, one of the most important shipping arteries on the west coast. Its ships pass through several island municipalities on the Canadian and American sides. (Google Maps)

The Canadian salvage tugs Atlantic Eagle and Atlantic Raven spend 60% of their combined time in Sidney or Victoria, but rotate along the BC coast. American or Canadian tugs were present in Juan de Fuca Strait, Haro Strait and Boundary Pass only 30% of the time in 2019, according to a study by the Clear Seas Center for Marine Shipping Research.

“If these ships are more than six hours away in a (navigational) crisis, we might as well not have them,” Luckman said. Tidal changes could lead to the grounding of a distressed vessel and its contents, he said.

The salvage tug Atlantic Raven arrived at M/V Zim Kingston 18 hours after the fire in the Strait of Juan de Fuca last fall. Over the past year and a half, Luckman said several ships have dragged anchor or tangled them while navigating the entrance to Plumper Sound or the 70-degree bend at Turn Point.

An oil tanker spill “is not a matter of if, but when,” Jaime said.

Of the six ports considered by Clear Seas and Island Trust, Sidney and Roche Harbour, Washington, provided the best response time to respond to inland incidents. Consider that Roche Harbor’s population is 11,000 less than Sidney’s, and Washington’s commitment of a salvage tug at Neah Bay (adjacent to Port Renfrew), and Sidney is preferred for an additional Canadian tug, a said Luckman.

The port of Sidney, British Columbia, on the cold morning of Feb. 23, 2022. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

The two councils have not yet received a response from either of the Canadian departments to their January letter. In a decade of change in municipal leadership, “we all know that’s what’s needed,” Luckman said.

“We’re not getting the movement we’d like to see.”

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The port of Sidney, British Columbia, on the cold morning of Feb. 23, 2022. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

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