The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority wants to make it clear that it does not have the authority to create or remove anchorages outside of the Port of Vancouver.
Alex Munro, the port authority’s senior communications advisor, said the VFPA is responsible for the stewardship of the Port of Vancouver, and its jurisdiction in the Southern Gulf Islands is currently limited to assigning ship anchorages.
He said international laws of the sea allow ships to anchor when needed.
“This common law, which has been in place for many years, is fundamental for marine safety and protection of life,” Munro said.
“Outside a port authority’s jurisdiction, ships of any size have the right to navigate and anchor wherever it is safe to do so, including around the Southern Gulf Islands. Transport Canada is responsible for regulating anchorages, including prohibiting anchoring in very limited circumstances.”
The VFPA held two open houses in the Cowichan Valley last month seeking public input into its draft Active Vessel Traffic Management Program to help deal with issues related to the controversial anchoring of freighters in the area.
There are 33 commercial vessel anchorages located throughout the southern Gulf Islands, including six in operation in Cowichan Bay and six near Ladysmith and Saltair harbours.
Repeated calls have been made by local governments, MPs, community groups and First Nations about protecting clam beds, prawns, oysters and endangered species from the environmental impact of the anchored shipping vessels.
As well as concerns about the impacts to the marine environment of parking these large ships in the area, there are also concerns about the noise and light pollution they create.
Munro said the current anchorage management approach for the Southern Gulf Islands relies on the Interim Protocol put in place by Transport Canada in 2018 to help reduce effects of ships at anchor on local communities.
He said the Interim Protocol directed the VFPA to help by assigning anchorages around the Southern Gulf Islands with the goal of balancing the distribution of ships.
“In collaboration with industry, the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada, and local and Indigenous communities, we are leading development of the Active Vessel Traffic Management Program to manage the prioritization and sequencing of ships visiting the Port of Vancouver,” Munro said.
“It will allow us to better manage commercial ships bound for the port, enhance ship safety and environmental protection, increase the efficiency of goods movement through the Port of Vancouver, and reduce the impact of trade activity on local communities. Canadian trade through the Port of Vancouver and region is growing, and the AVTMP is one of the ways we are working within the limits of our current jurisdiction to reduce the impact of this on local communities.”
Munro said the program is expected to help reduce community impacts of anchorages in a number of ways, including the establishment of a code of conduct for ships at anchor, and improving efficiency and minimizing the amount of time a ship spends at anchor.
He said the anchorage code of conduct outlines practices and procedures, including measures to minimize noise and light pollution, and overside discharges.
“Upon requesting an anchorage assignment from the VFPA, the ship’s captain will be required to agree to the anchorage code of conduct,” Munro said.
“We’ve been engaging with Indigenous and local communities on the AVTMP since early 2022 as we seek to understand community priorities and respond to local concerns. Engagement this fall is focused on gathering further input on the anchorage code of conduct and complaint resolution process regarding anchorage usage.”