Over the past several decades, tanker safety has improved with new regulations, more robust ship design codes, enhanced emergency preparedness and response systems, and better self-regulation and procedures. As outlined in a report sponsored by Clear Seas, these developments have coincided with a notable drop in marine shipping accidents worldwide, as well as fewer oil spills.

Tankers are held to strict international design, construction, manning, maintenance and operating standards. As the world continues to demand both resources and greater environmental protection standards, progressively, marine safety improvements have been undertaken by governments through legislation and initiatives within the tanker industry. Some of these improvements relevant to tanker traffic in the Salish Sea include: 

  • All tankers calling in Canada, including Vancouver, are double-hulled, which means they have two layers of heavy steel protecting their cargo. Furthermore, tankers have segregated cargo tanks, so if a breach does occur, spill volumes are minimized.
  • Improved technology provides superior bridge navigational aids, ship control systems and communications (e.g., GPS, AIS, radar, etc.).
  • Communications and monitoring of all vessels in Canadian waters, including specific monitoring of tankers, is undertaken by the coast guard vessel traffic service in cooperation with the United States Coast Guard.
  • Modern navigation charts based on bathymetry surveys and establishment of appropriate aids to navigation.
  • Regulations and practices are established, implemented and monitored by Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, Pacific Pilotage Authority and Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.
  • Pilotage practices, including special equipment (e.g., training and assignment).
  • Risk-based tanker escort practices have been implemented to mitigate probability of vessel grounding or uncontrolled drifting of a tanker in near coastal waters in case of a vessel power failure.
  • On November 7, 2016, the Government of Canada launched a $1.5-billion national Oceans Protection Plan also aimed at increased marine safety and protection of the marine environment.
  • Requirements for government-certified spill response organizations to ensure a response in case of spills; these standards are under review by the Government of Canada.

Trans Mountain has been safely handling vessels with petroleum products at our marine terminal since 1956 without a single spill from a tanker. The region’s already robust marine safety regime is well-managed, with important risk controls for all traffic and for oil tankers in particular.

Tugs are used depending on the location and need. For example, when a laden tanker begins transit from our Westridge Marine Terminal, two pilots are onboard and typically three tugs are tethered to the vessel, two at the stern and one on the bow. The tugs remain with the vessel through the Second Narrows transit and then their number is reduced to two through the remainder of the harbour. Once past First Narrows, one tug will remain with the vessel till Race Rocks. The pilots disembark the vessel at Victoria.

In future, based upon an intensive examination of marine issues, which included a quantitative risk assessment undertaken by Det Norske Veritas (DNV) as part of a TERMPOL Review, tug escort shall be expanded till Buoy J, near the limit of Canada’s Territorial Sea. Similarly, the pilot disembarkation point shall be extended to Race Rocks.

The National Energy Board has proposed 156 conditions for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, and many of the conditions relate to the marine aspects of the Project. These requirements cover a variety of areas, including marine shipping safety measures, emergency preparedness and response, marine air and greenhouse gas emissions, and protection of marine mammals.

The enhanced response regime will require a $150-million investment in Western Canada Marine Response Corporation for up to new eight response bases, new equipment and to employ more than 100 new people in spill response. This will double the spill response capabilities and significantly cut mandated response times. Our goal is to have an industry-leading emergency response plan that’s never used.

All these measures will build on the current marine safety regime and further mitigate risk in the region.  Once implemented, the risk controls and enhancements are expected to raise the level of care and safety in the region to well above globally-accepted shipping standards.

Learn more about Canadian tanker facts from Clear Seas.