Who’s in charge of oil tanker safety on Canadian coasts?

Whom to trust for information about tanker safety? As the Trans Mountain expansion project moves forward, we’re launching a series based on our popular Citizen’s Guide to Tanker Safety and Spill Response on British Columbia’s South Coast. Here's part one.

This post details the local, national and international systems that are in place to oversee and regulate ship movement in Canada. The information is drawn from the Resource Works Citizen’s Guide to Tanker Safety and Spill Response on British Columbia’s South Coast

Long tradition of marine safety

Oil tanker safety has many layers and is based on maritime conventions that have developed over centuries. In Canada and internationally, marine tankers are subject to more scrutiny and regulation than other commercial vessels because of potential environmental impacts in the event of a marine spill. International rules and regulations that are meant to protect the marine environment are adopted into Canadian law.

Although Canada is a trading nation, it is not a ship-owning nation. With over 244,000 kilometres of coastline, including 28,000 kilometres on the west coast, Canada has established a strong shipping governance regime to protect the marine environment from all marine risk.

Role of Transport Canada

Transport Canada, a federal regulatory agency, oversees the governance of ship movement, navigation safety and spill compensation, including compliance with international marine organizations and agreements. Tankers in Canadian waters are subject to:

  • Canada Shipping Act 2001Governs safety in marine transportation, including protection of the marine environment. It applies to all vessels operating in Canadian waters and requires compliance with international rules and regulations.
  • Pilotage Act — Vessels operating in areas such as the Port of Vancouver must have on board a locally trained marine pilot. Tanker vessels calling on Trans Mountain’s Westridge Marine Terminal are required to have two pilots on board.
  • Marine Transportation Security ActApplies to vessels and marine facilities in Canada, Canadian vessels outside of Canada and marine installations and structures.
  • At least nine other subordinate sets of federal regulations.

 Vancouver Fraser Port Authority

Tankers in the Port of Vancouver are also subject to the requirements of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, including:

  • Specific requirements for avoiding collisions in local waters.
  • A Movement Restriction Area for commercial vessels including tankers through the Second Narrows.
  • Priority for tankers in Second Narrows – other ships must wait for a tanker to exit
  • Port Authority’s harbour patrol officers board deep sea vessels for compliance checks and monitor all marine activities within Port jurisdiction

 International organizations and global conventions

Worldwide shipping safety is highly regulated through a range of measures that have been developed and are subject to continuous improvement. International organizations and global conventions develop rules, regulations and best practices that are then adopted and applied universally. These include:

  • International Marine Organization
  • SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea)
  • Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea
  • International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
  • International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers
  • Paris Memorandum of Understanding
  • Tokyo Memorandum of Understanding
  • Oil Companies International Marine Forum
  •  Multiple spill compensation sources

Multiple spill compensation sources

Compensation for a spill in the Canadian marine environment is available from three sources:

  • Shipowners’ liability. The International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage makes shipowners legally responsible for tanker spills.
  • International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds – Two international compensation funds are available for oil pollution damages from oil that does not break after a spill. Combined with shipowners’ liability coverage, about $1.3 billion in compensation is provided.
  • The Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund — This Canadian fund is comprised of levies collected from oil cargo companies. As part of the Oceans Protection Plan announced by the federal government in 2016, the existing cap on compensation from ship owners will be removed. In its place, the government is requiring ship owners to provide “unlimited compensation” for those affected by oil spills.

National Energy Board

Specific to tankers calling on Westridge Marine Terminal, the National Energy Board (NEB) has imposed 11 marine-related conditions that must be met by Trans Mountain. These include enhancements to marine spill response and procedures for tug escorts for laden tankers departing Westridge.

The Southern Resident Killer Whale and shipping

Overall vessel traffic including commercial and recreational traffic will increase in future, impacting Southern Resident Killer Whales. The Oceans Protection Plan announced by the federal government in includes funding for the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program, which is a Vancouver Fraser Port Authority-led initiative aimed at better understanding and managing the impact of shipping activities on at-risk whales throughout the southern coast of British Columbia. Kinder Morgan provided significant early funding to the ECHO Program.

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