No sure thing

Increased tanker traffic doesn't mean a spill is inevitable

After joining my first ocean-going ship as a boy of 16, I sailed the world for over a quarter century; working my way through the ranks to serve my last dozen years at sea as shipmaster.

My wife, Susan, spent almost 14 years at sea as a stewardess, and between us we tally about 40 years of experience on all kinds of freighters, petroleum product tankers and crude oil supertankers.

It causes us trepidation to read and hear well-meaning folk repeatedly express the “inevitability of a catastrophic oil spill on our pristine coast,”  should tankers be allowed to transport bitumen from Kitimat if the Enbridge pipeline is completed.

We never experienced any oil spills during our considerable time working at sea; all cargoes were handled under strict regulations, and with great care and expertise at a time when tankers were not double-hulled, and navigational equipment and aids were far less sophisticated.

Ships carrying other freight always had huge bunker tanks for the diesel engines, but we never experienced any significant bunker spills either.

It would be foolish to say that there would never be an accident; history shows that transportation involving machines and humans is always fraught with danger  —  from kids’ scooters, to bicycles, automobiles, trains, ships and planes.

However, maybe the protesters’ energy  — pun intended  —  would be better utilized by urging governments to insist refineries be built in Canada. Pipelines to the West Coast and U.S. would then carry petroleum products such as gasoline or diesel for export, rather than bitumen.

Building and operating these refineries would provide wonderful employment, and shipping refined products would be far safer and more profitable.

A product spill from either pipeline or tanker would make for a far easier clean-up than bitumen that would sink to the bottom of rivers crossed by the pipeline or the ocean.

There are many more discussions to be had, like building the pipeline terminal at  Prince Rupert for easier access to the ocean for example, before we succumb to the “inevitability” propaganda.

Many protesters forget that Vancouver Harbour has had tanker traffic since 1915  —  that’s 97 years, and the refinery at Burnaby has been supplying petroleum products to Vancouver Island and other ports along our coast by tanker and barges since 1935.

Bernie Smith





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