The Cowichan Valley Regional District may urge the federal government to have commercial freighter anchorages in Cowichan Bay removed.
The board at the CVRD unanimously voted last month to send a letter to Transportation Minister Marc Garneau after a presentation by Peter Holmes, president of the Cowichan Bay Ship Watch Society, who wants to see eight ship anchorages in Cowichan Bay eliminated.
Staff will now write the letter, which may or may not support the elimination of the anchorages, and it will be presented to the board for approval at a future council meeting before being sent to Ottawa.
The Islands Trust Council sent a similar letter to the federal government last September.
Holmes said that the society is in no way opposed to a robust, efficient marine-based trading economy. He said what the society strongly opposes is the irresponsible lack of concern by both the provincial and federal governments in allowing bulk freighters to park free in local waters.
“The environmental and potentially economic risks and the negative impacts on our community are real,” Holmes said.
“The law of ‘international right to safe harbour’ allows this practice to continue as there is no port jurisdiction beyond Vancouver and Nanaimo harbours. However, the federal government has recently acquired the legal means to control and eliminate this unhealthy practice and we want them to act on this.”
Holmes said a significant spill from ships at these anchorages could devastate shorelines and marine life, as well as the Cowichan River, for decades.
He said pollution from the ships’ generators equate to 300 extra cars operating in the area while the freighters, which are anchored close to shore, disturb sleep, general health and the well being of residents from lights, noise and air pollution.
“There are 33 anchorages around the south coast (including the eight in Cowichan Bay and six in Ladysmith and Saltair waters),” he said. “In Cowichan Bay during 2009/10, just a handful of ships anchored there, but in 2018 that number had increased to 287 and the forecast is for that number of ships to keep growing.”
The boats off Ladysmith, Saltair and Gabriola Island have also been greeted with some groundswell of community concern.
Holmes said most of the ships are waiting in Cowichan Bay to be loaded with grain and/or coal at ports on the mainland and are not monitored, other than spotter planes from Transport Canada that occasionally fly over them checking for spills.
He said the ships, many of them 300-metres long, swing hundreds of feet of anchor chains around the ocean floor, scouring the seabed and destroying sensitive marine habitat.
As well, Holmes pointed out that in business terms, ship owners and shippers are losing money with idle ships through the inefficient management of local ports.
“Ships at free anchorages contribute nothing to our national or local economy, but use our islands as free parking for maintenance,” he said.
“Time is of the essence and with a (federal) election coming up, more pressure is needed to move legislation along on this anchorage issue.”
Ian Morrison, chairman of the CVRD said Holmes’s presentation made an impact on the board.
“The risks to local waters and the environment are not being adequately dealt with,” he said. “The level of risk for us is high while international shipping companies get a free ride. It’s an unacceptable situation.”