Nosejob gives Kitimat a shudder

Well I see its been already two weeks since my last post! I finally got on top of that nasty computer virus which crippled my computer for my whole time at sea, this last contract. If anyone gets a hold of this little prick, aka know as the daddy of the Virut worm, please castrate them with my regards. Since getting home I have been trying to rebuild the damn machine, in between the diaper changes, and the others potty training exercises. So now I am realizing that I badly neglected the blog, well at least that feels like the most pressing matter, right now. Moving on…

My latest maritime observations, concern that little northern BC town of Kitimat. Home to a large aluminum smelter facility, and some logging and pulp operations. Like most “one horse towns” they have been suffering some of the modern corporate stability blues. Kitimat has long held an “Ace up their sleeve”, in the form of a well developed deep sea port facility, that is privately held, within short reach of Alberta’s and Northern British Columbia’s oil and natural gas fields.

The vision, from Enbridge’s website, is to pipe in crude oil to storage facilities in Kitimat from the Edmonton area, then, load it on vessels of 120-300,000 GT (VLCC) and ship it to Asian markets. The project known as the Northern Gateway Pipeline, will also have a twin pipeline, for offloading condensates back to Edmonton. The company is still in the public consultation stage, but from their published timetable, the project should see start of construction in mid 2012, with commissioning in 2016.

Another project utilizing Kitimat’s deep water access, and similar in set up, is the Pacific Trails LNG pipeline project, it is scheduled go online in 2013. It is spearheaded by Kitimat LNG and its parent company Galveston LNG

At the end of September, the general cargo ship MV Petersfield, reportedly lost steering in Douglas Channel and smashed its bow on the transit out to sea, from Kitimat, bringing the viability of the plans, vis a vis the safe navigation of a large tanker in a narrow “tricky” channels, into question. The Petersfield is classed as a 27,818 ton general cargo ship built in 1985, owned by Gearbulk – no stranger to the BC coast – flagged in the Bahamas and classed by Lloyds. You can read about the event here, from the neighboring town’s paper, and here in the national paper. The accident did not result in any harm to the ship’s crew or the environment.

There is always some very serious public opposition when anything resembling an energy company doing anything on the coast, so this incident is giving plenty of fodder to the opposition movements. The local media is having a lively debate on the issue, you an read about it here, here, here, and here.

I have been following this story out of interest, of course, to the maritime community of the area, although few marine engineers will benefits of this development directly, it will impact the maritime industry on the coast considerably.

For example, this incident will certainly put a great deal of emphasis on escort tugs, a breed of vessel currently absent from the area. Big player, Smit Marine, has been moving aggressively, expanding in nearby Prince Rupert, as a result, I believe the anticipation is palpitatable. Seaspan has recently put into service one such specifically designed vessel into service in not too far away Vancouver, one would assume they are eyeballing this opportunity as well.

There is always risks in any operation, but certainly the technology exist to address these risks and minimized them. An LNG, VLCC and bulkers are big ships, and the waters challenging, but I don’t think its fair to lump the operations under the same heading. I certainly think its prudent to address these issues now – do a proper risk assessment, and expect suitable and vetted plan to be drawn up by the proponents of the project and its government overseers, before going full steam.

From my perspective, it is frustrating to see the usual knee jerk reactions from environmentalist. Burying our heads in the sands, and being belligerent just makes matters worst and drives the extremist out, to oppose or undertake the project, which can only lead to further headaches for the region.

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  1. Update – April 2010

    Gyro data input problem eyed in bulker’s steering loss that led to B.C grounding.

    A switching circuitry problem may have caused a 615-foot bulk carrier to lose steering and ram into the shoreline along a British Columbia island. The accident severely damaged the ship’s bulbous bow. The Bahamas-registered Petersfield was loaded with soda ash and lumber byproducts when it ran into trouble Sept. 25, 2009, in Douglas Channel. The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada is investigating the incident. A Pacific Coast pilot was aboard Petersfield at the time. Kevin Obermeyer, president and CEO of the Pacific Pilotage Authority, confirmed that a circuitry problem was identified during the probe.

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