Recently, the CVRD sent a letter to the federal government requesting that coal and grain freighters not be allowed to anchor on CVRD’s coastal waters. In response, some took to social media to decry the move and claim that the freighters contribute to the local economy. The idea that these freighters bring economic benefit to Island community is a false narrative.
These freighters are not container shipping vessels, they are specifically grain and coal freighters. Container shipping vessels operate under strict rules known as “just in time berthing”. Just in time berthing rules allow container ships to dock at the Port of Vancouver for only seven days, enough time to unload their contents, then fill back up to be shipped anywhere in the world. This is an industry standard practice that keeps the flow of ships moving smoothly through the port, and prevents a backlog of ships waiting for work.
Freighters, on the other hand, have no such rules. They can show up on Canadian waters around the southern Gulf Islands and stay for an indefinite period of time. Some ships have stayed as long as six weeks. Transport Canada is responsible for regulating these ships, and ensuring that they do not discharge bilge water or other pollutants. Transport Canada is also responsible for monitoring the freighters for invasive species, as well as protecting the existing marine habitat. Those rules are not strictly enforced, and often times there is no oversight for these freighters.
So, what economic benefit do these ships offer? Other than the transport of coal and grain, (most of which is American,) none. They park completely for free, damage the local environment, and do not bring any consumer goods.
With this information in mind, the next logical question is: why are freighters allowed to anchor here if they don’t bring any benefits? Some have pointed to a slumping global market affected by international trade wars. This has resulted in ships waiting longer for contracts than normal. With a lack of available port space, Transport Canada has allowed the ships to anchor around south Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
The freighters that dot the coast line are not container shipping vessels. They do not pay for anchorage. They pollute the water and damage marine ecosystems. They bring no tangible benefit to the Island’s economy, they only put it at risk.