Findings from investigation into cargo ship collision worries Southern Gulf Islands residents

·3 min read
The bulk carriers Golden Cecilie [top] and Green K-Max 1 collided in Plumper Sound located in B.C.'s  Southern Gulf Islands on March 30, 2020.
The bulk carriers Golden Cecilie [top] and Green K-Max 1 collided in Plumper Sound located in B.C.'s Southern Gulf Islands on March 30, 2020.

(Csaba Magyar, Captain Peter, Shipspotting.com, Transport Canada)

Findings from an investigation into how two bulk carrier vessels collided in the waters of the Southern Gulf Islands highlight the dangers of having cargo vessels anchor in the area, say local groups.

Bruce McConchie, a resident of South Pender Island, woke up on the morning of March 30, 2020, to see the bulk carriers Golden Cecilie and Green K-Max 1 close together in Plumper Sound with their anchor cables entwined.

"Scared to death," he said in describing how he felt when we saw the two ships, which transport cargo such as grain or coal.

"These ships could have easily ended up on shores with a busted [fuel] tank spreading oil throughout our Southern Gulf Island areas."

Plumper Sound is located between Saturna Island and North and South Pender Islands.

The incident adds to an ongoing debate over allowing cargo vessels to anchor, sometimes for weeks, along B.C.'s South Coast.

The vessels are destined for the Port of Vancouver, but use more than two dozen anchorages in and around the Southern Gulf Islands to wait for a berth to open in the port to pick up cargo such as grain, coal, potash or sulphur.

The Port of Vancouver says growth in trade, supply chain issues and weather-related delays have resulted in the Southern Gulf Island anchorages being used more.

People like McConchie, who is part of a local residents group called the Plumper Sound Protection Association, along with local First Nations and politicians are worried that accidents or collisions like the one involving the Golden Cecilie and Green K-Max 1 could end up damaging the ecosystem.

Peter Holmes
Peter Holmes

The Transportation Safety Board found that strong winds and a slow response by the crew of the Golden Cecilie resulted in the vessel dragging its anchor.

By the time crew took action to stop the 198-metre vessel from drifting toward the 229-metre Green K-Max 1 it was too late to avoid a collision between the two ships, which were not carrying cargo at the time.

The collision caused a 30-centimetre hole in the Golden Cecilie's port hull while the Green K-Max 1 had minor damage to its starboard bow. The two vessels' anchors also became entwined.

Damage to both vessels was above the water line and the TSB says no pollution escaped from either ship They were later untangled and moved apart by local pilots and tugboat operators.

The report, which aims to improve safety, said that additional measures could have been taken by the crew of Golden Cecilie to check weather conditions, which could have helped them prevent the anchor drag and collision.

102 dragging anchors

The report said that as a result of the incident, the Golden Cecilie's operator, SeaTeam Management Pte. Ltd., which is registered in Hong Kong, amended its safety guidelines.

Robert Lewis-Manning, the president of the B.C. Chamber of Shipping, which represents international ship owners and their agents in Canada says companies operating ships in the region will look to the report to further improve practices to deal with winds and other conditions when anchoring in local waters.

"It demonstrates how quickly something can happen regardless of the intentions to deal with that situation," he said.

Peter Holmes
Peter Holmes

The TSB report said that between January 2015 and March 2020, there were 102 incidents of ships dragging anchors along B.C.'s coastline which can result in collisions, groundings or other emergencies.

In light of the collision, McConchie and others want Transport Canada to move faster in coming up with solutions to getting vessels in and out of the Port of Vancouver without having to rely so much on the anchorages in the Southern Gulf Islands.

In October 2020, Alistair MacGregor, NDP MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, introduced a private members bill that, if passed, would prohibit the anchoring of freighter vessels along the Southern Strait of Georgia.

Local groups are supportive of the bill including First Nations who say they have not been adequately consulted about the issue and that anchor dragging disturbs seabeds and seafood harvesting areas.