An Island MP has introduced a bill to ban freighters from using designated anchorages in the Strait of Georgia, giving hope to communities frustrated by years of light and noise pollution.
The roughly 30 anchorages in the strait are used by freighters from around the world while they wait to receive their cargo at the Port of Vancouver and during inclement weather. The average stay at anchorage points around the southern Gulf Islands is 8.6 days, according to Transport Canada.
Coastal residents have long been frustrated by the presence of freighters off the shore, citing light and noise pollution and concerns about the potential for an oil spill.
“We don’t want those freighters in our waters,” said Lyackson First Nation Chief Pahalicktun Richard Thomas.
Freighters sometimes spend months at an anchorage, and his community members are concerned about vessels dumping substances in the water, fishing illegally and coming too close to their island, he said.
Though he has voiced his concerns for years, Thomas said little has been done to address the problem. He’s hopeful that Alistair MacGregor’s private member’s bill to ban freighters from anchoring in the southern Strait of Georgia will finally bring change.
MacGregor, an NDP member of Parliament who represents Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, introduced the bill Monday.
“In the short term, my major goal is really to use this bill as a focal point for people to mount a campaign with,” MacGregor said. “Longer term, of course, I would love to see it passed into law.”
He hopes the bill puts pressure on the federal government to manage shipping traffic more effectively to eliminate the need for lengthy waits at anchorage points.
In April, a collision between two freighters parked at anchorages between Saturna and Pender islands renewed calls for action. Peter Luckham, chair of the Islands Trust council, called it “a very near miss to a situation where literally millions of litres of bunker fuel oil could have become spilled onto the coast.”
The right to anchor a vessel is part of the common law right of navigation, and vessels are free to anchor temporarily in the strait wherever it’s safe, according to Transport Canada.
A spokesperson for the federal agency said they are aware of the concerns about anchorages near the Gulf Islands and gathered stakeholders in early 2018 to implement voluntary measures to mitigate noise and lighting nuisances.
MacGregor said those voluntary measures are largely ignored. The area he has proposed for a ban follows the same boundaries as a national marine conservation area proposed by the federal government.
“If the federal government sees value in conserving these waters, because of the value that they have for the aquatic life, then I think they should also be looking at the anchorages issue as well, and also not allowing our waters to be used as an overflow industrial parking lot for the Port of Vancouver,” he said.