Oil tankers irk some Burrard Inlet boaters
Kinder Morgan Canada is expected to soon announce that it will seek to twin its Trans Mountain pipeline between northern Alberta and Burnaby. The twinning would mean a huge increase in the amount of crude that transits the pipeline, and in the number of oil tankers passing through local waters each year. This is part of Oil & Water, a three-part series looking at the logistics, risks, and politics involved.
Most local sea-goers say as long as the oil stays out of the water and the tugboats out of their way, they could ignore the boom in tanker traffic the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline would bring to the Burrard Inlet.
For many, the huge hollow-hulled vessels are more like slow scenery — at worst, navigational obstacles — than harbour hazards.
But because of their considerable bulk and lack of maneuverability — the vessels in some cases reaching 250 metres long — some boaters complain the tankers are given free rein of the Burrard sea lane while smaller boats are pushed to the wayside and made to wait.
Still others who dock their boats on the inlet complain the increasingly powerful tugs needed to maneuver the tankers are churning up larger wakes, causing damage to boats and making travel in and out of the inlet more dangerous.
Antonio Escala is the dock master of North Vancouver’s Mosquito Creek Marina.
“They create a lot of wave action. It’s unsettling for many of the customers especially the ones close to the outside of the dock,” Escala told The Outlook from the marina just west of Lonsdale Quay and the SeaBus terminal.
“They come so close and so fast,” he said.
Boats get scratched, ropes break and things fall into the water and are lost.
“Eventually it could become a real problem when the traffic increases,” he added.
West of Mosquito Creek towards the Lions Gate Bridge is a yacht club with the same problem.
As commodore of the Burrard Yacht Club, Lea Bancroft said the negative impact of more tankers on the inlet would be twofold.
“Increased tanker traffic in the harbour would really increase the wake problems we’re seeing,” Bancroft said.
Like his marina neighbour to the east, he’s had ongoing problems with harbour tugs racing around to maneuver tankers through the busy inlet and it seems to be getting worse.
“We’re fighting the same thing Mosquito Creek is. As these vessels have grown larger, the vessel requirements have grown larger and these larger tugs with higher and higher power are pushing more water and traveling at faster speeds and creating more wake.”
By its own estimates, Seaspan Marine operates the lion’s share of the harbour tugs in Vancouver — “over 75 per cent are ours,” said Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth in a phone interview with The Outlook. That’s amounted to more than 10,000 escort trips in and 10,000 trips out from under the Second Narrows Bridge since 1970.
And while he maintains that in his three years at the marine operator he’s never heard a single complaint about tug activity in the inlet, he said the tugs are definitely getting much bigger and more powerful, singling out two new 6,000-horsepower harbour tugs Seaspan recently put into service in Vancouver, the biggest boats of their kind in the province.
And all that traffic on the inlet has caused another problem for small commercial and pleasure boaters: long waits at the bridges.
When a tanker’s moving through the narrows, all other vessels halt and wait for it to clear, by order of the harbour master.
“As Kinder Morgan has increased its tanker traffic, the problem’s actually become quite noticeably worse over the last couple years,” Bancroft said. “All traffic has to cease and desist transiting at both the First and Second Narrows.”
His counterpart at the Deep Cove Yacht Club, Commodore Phil Wolf agreed, saying the larger the capacity of the tanker, the less leeway given to the smaller operators in the area.
“And of course we’ve got spill kits at the ready should anything happen,” Wolf added.