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Exaggerating the Russian Freighter Story Blows the Facts Out of the Water

10/27/2014 05:48 EDT | Updated 12/27/2014 05:59 EST

Arno Kopecky's recent (October 23) dramatic writing on the engine troubles of the Simushir freighter does little to add value to what should be a factual conversation on maritime safety.

While I appreciate his creative writing skills in describing the events last weekend, we should rely on the experts to inform us about maritime safety. Thankfully, we have recent quotable sources to paint an accurate picture of north coast marine safety reality.

According to the most recent Port Information Guide from the Port of Prince Rupert more than 465 seagoing vessels called at the port in 2013. That's important context to understand because those vessels are among the thousands of safe vessel transits on our north coast each year.

Northern Gateway would introduce purpose-built 'super tugs' that "will dwarf any existing tugs on the B.C. coast" as tug designer Robert Allan notes. "These tugs are also designed to perform rescue towing should an unescorted tanker be disabled anywhere within the 320-kilometre limit of Canadian waters off the B.C. coast."

Northern Gateway tugs will provide escort to tankers calling at our marine terminal, not off the west coast of Haida Gwaii which is well outside of our proposed shipping route. However, these 10,000-horsepower super tugs -- with firefighting and emergency response equipment on board -- can be called upon to help any ship in distress in the area.

Kopecky's rather dramatic picture painting also suggests that appropriate shipping weather is 'rare' on the waters surrounding Haida Gwaii -- perhaps as few as 140 days of the year. Well, contrary to Kopecky's hyperbolic assertions, the reality is tankers transit safely along the north coast far more than a few weeks per year.

The Pacific Pilotage Authority (PPA), the organization in charge of B.C.'s professional Coast Pilot operations, told the National Energy Board that "they rarely have vessel delays as a result of not being able to board a pilot." The PPA also makes it clear that conditions on our coast are similar to the conditions on the northeast coast of Canada -- an area that has been handling very large tanker operations for many years without incident.

It is most definitely true that weather can present challenges to shipping on the north coast; it's equally true that major storms with the forces necessary to endanger modern deep sea vessels are rare events on our coast.

Nevertheless, the fact remains -- tankers will avoid transiting to and from our marine terminal in conditions that are unsafe in compliance with our operational safety limits accounting for wind, sea-state and visibility. Thanks to modern forecasting and real-time weather tracking, ships can avoid extreme weather.

I'm grateful that the misfortune on board the Simushir didn't become an incident involving harm to the environment and people. We can learn from this event, but let's not pervert it into inaccurate perceptions of our north coast reality.

This post was authored by Ivan Giesbrecht, communications manager for Northern Gateway.

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