Luanne Roth took a photo of the Bulk Columbia in 2015 when she said it was drifting rapidly astern past her home in Prince Rupert. (Luanne Roth photo)

Anchor dragging incidents on the rise in Prince Rupert harbour

Average of seven drags a year, states report by T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation

Anchor dragging incidents in the Prince Rupert harbour are on the rise, reveals a new report by the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation.

The report states that the port was averaging one anchor dragging incident a year, but in the last four years there has been an average of seven incidents a year.

Luanne Roth, a campaigner with T. Buck Suzuki, released the report on Feb. 25. On Monday night, she is presenting the information to Prince Rupert city council at the committee of the whole meeting.

“This isn’t being dealt with, it shouldn’t have taken me looking this up. I think it’s important that the public knows what is going on and asks for it to be dealt with. The risk of a spill and the consequences in the estuary, the adverse affects, the burden of that would be borne by the people in the community,” Roth said.

An anchor drag is when the anchor loses the ability to hold a vessel in place, usually due to high winds. When that happens, the vessel has to maintain its position under its own power until it can reset its anchorage.

Ken Veldman, VP of public affairs and sustainability at the Port of Prince Rupert, said anchor drags are a low-risk incident.

“The port authority, the Canadian Coast Guard, and the vessel itself all have technology that monitors and alarms if the vessel starts to move out of its anchorage spot, i.e. this is the shore radar that the PRPA invested in a few years ago,” Veldman said.

READ MORE: North Coast gets a $5 million shore-based radar system

A pilot will then move out to the vessel, as it maintains position under its own power, to help reset the anchor.

But with the expansion of Fairview Terminal, and prospective projects, including Vopak that would introduce an additional 150 vessels a year to the harbour at full capacity, Roth wants more to be done.

READ MORE: Vopak expects 240 liquid gas-by-rail cars per day

“I think Transport Canada should be involved,” Roth said. “There needs to be money spent on this, maybe this is too big an issue for the port to handle alone, maybe they could use some federal funding.”

In her report, she found that an early study from 1992 warned that the Prince Rupert harbour doesn’t have safe anchorage for bulk carriers over 50,000 DWT (deadweight tons) and ships were believed to drag anchor due to “a thin layer of mud [that] overlies smooth rock”.

In the Vancouver harbour, where there have been more vessel visits (44,000) between 2004 to 2017, there have been 12 large vessel anchored incidents. Prince Rupert has had 6,300 vessel visits between the same time period, and 40 reported large vessel anchored incidents.

“There’s a preparedness element to anchor drags because these are wind event caused. There are local policies and procedures that mandate readiness levels based on the season,” Veldman said.

There are policies and procedures that mandate the level of readiness, he said, so if a storm has been forecast everyone is prepared.

Roth’s report highlights some mitigation options, such as mooring buoys, minimizing fuel reserves for onboard bulk carriers and restricting vessels over 50,000 DWT to safe anchorage areas.

There are 31 anchorages in the Prince Rupert harbour, and Veldman said they typically use 20-22 of them. For 15 years, they averaged 1.5 anchor drags a year, and in the last four years it’s gone up to an average of seven anchor drags.

“If you look over time, historically, this has been a low number,” he said.

But with the potential Vopak project, and a general increase in vessel traffic, the Northern View asked if the port plans to address the recent increase in anchor drags in the harbour.

“We’re always looking to improve our policies and procedures when it comes to vessel safety and we actually do have another anchorage review planned for later this year,” Veldman said.

To report a typo, email: editor@thenorthernview.com.


Shannon Lough | Editor
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