I was doing some research on another topic when I came across an interesting article from the Tyee, a BC based, shall we say, left leaning, epub. The articles chronicles the interaction of the paper, with Transport Canada, and their (varying) stance on crewing for tugs operating in Vancouver Harbour.
The reason this subject has been in the news this past year, is that Alberta “tar sands” crude, and bitumen, is being pumped to Vancouver, for shipment overseas; a relatively new concept. With the increase in production, there has been a need to increase the size of tankers traversing the harbour, and its many challenging waterways.
The resulting discussion led to increase public awareness, and concern, about tanker traffic through the Second Narrows (pictured below), a treacherous waterway within Vancouver’s harbour. As a result the Tyee armed with some “ammunition”, courtesy of the guild (Ship’s Officer Union – CMSG), quizzed Transport Canada about operating tugs with only two crew onboard, a Captain and a deckhand.
Tugs, within the ever widening boundaries of the Port of Vancouver, are not required to sail with a licensed engineer. This is becoming more of an issue with the increase requirements of escort tugs for tankers, and the complexity of the tugs themselves. The definition of “escort”, being the tripping hazard for TC.
For us “locals” this is nothing new – the multiple version of a simple answer from Transport Canada, nor the fact that these 6,000 hp tugs operating with no engineers on board. To me, the later has been quite incredible to swallow for many years. There is some good deckhands, but its getting a little ridiculous to expect them to operate a complex engine room like that on the newer, high power tugs.
Never mind the aspect of safety, or the union’s own motives, but who in their right mind would let a multi-million dollar piece of machinery, in the hands of a deckhand, dispatched from the union hall, a few hours before. Not to mention, the legal and financial implications of a possible accident.
OK, granted the reliability of modern engineering systems are better. There is probably not much an engineer – or anybody else, can do, in the case of a major failure, given the tight waterways, and the quick pace of something going south to start with. But, that is kind of the point with this discussion. The older, lower powered tugs, handling smaller ships, carrying grain, had a bit more room for errors, before they became front page news.
I heard a story from a friend of mine the other day; one of SMIT’s new high powered escort tug in Vancouver being out of commission, because the deckhand, sick of hearing the engine alarm, punched the display, rendering the engine practically inoperable, and the tug laid up for a considerable amount of time, until a specialist with parts, came from Germany.
This debate was bound to come up, especially with the arrival of such high horsepower machines in the area. Anyways, you can read the articles here – Transport Canada at its best.