Dr. Richard Wiefelspuett gave a talk to the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce members in late November.

Clear Seas a resource for marine decision-makers

A visit from one of the foremost experts on marine shipping provided Rupert and its business leaders with some new ideas to chew on

A lot of marine shipping know-how is already firmly rooted in Prince Rupert, but a visit from one of the province’s foremost experts on the subject provided Rupert community and business leaders with some new ideas to chew on as the industry evolves along the North Coast.

Dr. Richard Wiefelspuett presented an introduction to the Clear Seas initiative at a Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce event in late November at the Port Interpretive Centre.

Clear Seas, a fairly new, not-for-profit organization that provides unbiased research that informs the public and policy makers about marine shipping in Canada, is just taking its first steps in becoming one of the country’s premier think-tanks on the topic of safe and responsible marine shipping – on B.C.’s North Coast, Canada’s waterways, the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence seaway and the east coast.

“Originally it was planned to be a centre of excellence for B.C. … [but after] an engagement process with a number of stakeholders in the industry – First Nations, local coastal communities – the concept was expanded to be national and to look at all types of shipping,” Dr. Wiefelspuett, Clear Seas executive director explained last Thursday.

Clear Seas’ mission as described on its website, “to be the leading source of credible, fact-based information to bring clarity to decision-making for safe and sustainable marine in Canada”, is already well underway.

With an approximate $1 million research budget per year, a board that was nominated in 2014 and its executive director, Wiefelspuett, starting in April 2015, Clear Seas is already working to get two research projects off the ground – the first, entitled “Characterization of Risk of Marine Shipping in Canadian Waters”, will establish a consensus for stakeholders involved in the marine shipping industry about the risks involved in marine shipping as it pertains to a wide range of ship types and cargoes.

The second research project is titled “The Value of Canadian Commercial Shipping”. The project will examine the social impacts that Canadian marine shipping have on the average Canadian’s life. The report will outline the economic impacts to Canada but also the impacts in the day-to-day livelihoods of the country’s citizens.

“The research is ongoing, questionnaires have gone out and expert meetings are being held right now,” said Dr. Wiefelspuett, adding that the risk study is anticipated to be published in March 2016 and the value study in 2017.

“It takes a long time – the process involved and the peer review process, but we also try to pitch smaller projects in smaller circles … for example a first line of defence toward spills of bunkering [fuel],” he said.

“When we have a research outcome, we want to create a policy proposal about implementing what we discuss and define as best practices to the various jurisdictions.”

Many national and more regional and localized organizations both input and receive feedback to Clear Seas’ studies, including in the Prince Rupert area, the Port of Prince Rupert, coastal First Nations (including Metlakatla, who Dr. Wiefelspuett met with in late November – with all First Nation stakeholders to be contacted once Clear Seas hires its director of communications and engagement) and many more.

“The Port [of Prince Rupert] is very important to us. Ports are the interface between the general public and the shipping industry. They have a good safety culture and vision. Sustainability is part of their mandate,” said the executive director.

With B.C.’s North Coast potentially on the verge of an LNG boom, Dr. Wiefelspuett, who holds more than 30 years experience in the maritime sector and has been a marine campus associate dean at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), a marine equipment supplier director and holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Science in Mechanical, Shipbuilding and Offshore Engineering, explained the past history of the LNG shipping industry and how it might affect Prince Rupert.

“There is an established safety record … When we quote the safety record of the LNG shipping industry, we must also understand how it was achieved and it was achieved by creating a very deep safety culture. So from the officers in the company to the deckhands, everybody is part of the safety culture. So, as we introduce these cargoes to our coastline, that is where we also need to be aware of how do we create that safety culture – it’s 24/7 awareness, explained Dr. Wiflespuett.

“LNG is statistically a safe gas, but it’s also very volatile. It has to be [handled] properly. When people understand it, it’s done well.”

Clear Seas uses individual case studies such as current events (like the drifting cargo ship, MV North Star last week) to identify them as part of larger phenomena.

“We cannot always respond to them, but we can identify them as a phenomenon. Drifting ships are not unusual. Coincidentally a ship is drifting off the coast of Scotland … The coastline industry makes mistakes and we want to capture recurring phenomena that constitute risks that could have devastating environmental impacts, for example, and create something so we have something in place beforehand so we get ahead of the curve, rather than being reactive. We want to be proactive,” said Dr. Wiflespuett.

“The shipping industry is a safe industry – it’s regulated – but also a lot of things can be improved and I think that’s why it’s exciting times for us to be doing this and I think we can make a difference.”

 

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