25 years ago, the main risk area seen was within major ports where most spills were on vessel loading and discharging (”operational spills”) but tightened practices have since virtually eliminated these. Now, with bigger ships/volumes of oil, we see new risk factors in areas with convoluted coastlines and tricky tides/currents. Captain Gordon Houston’s speech reviewed Canada’s existing ship-source oil spill preparedness and response regime and the recommendations of the expert panel for enhancing it.

The Tanker Safety Expert Panel comprised Capt. Houston as chair plus Mr. Richard Gaudreau (a marine lawyer) and Dr. Michael Sinclair (a marine biologist) with Transport Canada support staff.

The three major elements for Canada’s approach to ship-source pollution are: (1) Preparedness and Response, (2) Liability and Compensation, and (3) Prevention.

The panel’s mandate was on the (1) Preparedness and Response element but it also made two related recommendations on (2) Liability and Compensation. It did not touch on (3) Prevention.

The Panel’s work was in two phases separated geographically.

Phase one: all of Canada south of 60 deg. N. latitude, except for Hudson’s Bay
Phase two: Hudson’s Bay and the Canadian Arctic
Consulted with 133 groups and received 103 submissions
88 recommendations in the two phases

Phase One (the South):
Currently, the Response Organization (or RO, e.g. West Coast Marine Response Corporation, WCRMC) has to prove it can handle a 10,000 tonne spill as a planning standard (though in fact today it can handle 25,000+ tonnes).  The Panel’s first recommendation: change this so the RO must make arrangements with other organizations e.g. for mutual assistance to address a worst case discharge, i.e. loss of all oil onboard regardless of size of ship.

The first 16 recommendations are made for potential risks involving big vessels in such areas (e.g. West Coast, Bay of Fundy, St Lawrence) in newly created Areas of Response and specific Geographic Response Plans within them. Four test areas now established by Transport Canada for these new plans.

The Panel sees rapid decision-making as key to protecting people and the environment after a spill. Since “decisions by committee” of multiple agencies can cause delay, England and Australia have created positions of single command covering emergency marine response. The Panel recommends Canada should establish a single decision-maker for emergencies to make and enforce decisions in the public interest.

Download Proceedings from Session With Tanker Safety Export Panel-  Gordon Houston, Chair.


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