Questions remain after broken cargo ship towed to B.C. coast
A broken Russian cargo ship that was adrift off the B.C. coast is now docked in Prince Rupert, but questions are being raised over how the ship was rescued.
The container ship Simushir was en route to Russia from Washington State when it lost power Thursday. Efforts by the Canadian Coast Guard to secure a tow line and bring the ship to port failed, after the line snapped three times and sent the vessel adrift again.
Eventually a U.S. tug boat arrived late Saturday night and brought the ship, which was carrying hundreds of tonnes of fuel, to port.
In the House of Commons Monday, oppostion critics suggested that the Harper government’s marine safety plan had dodged “a bullet” thanks to blind luck and help from the American tug boat.
"If dodging a bullet doesn't wake you up, I don't know what will. It's important for Canadians to understand how close this was," NDP MP Nathan Cullen said.
Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea responded by saying "luck had nothing to do with the situation."
Shea publicly thanked Canadian Coast Guard for managing to sail to the incapacitated Russian ship within 14 hours. She stressed that the ship became disabled in international waters, and said the federal government promises to implement a $6.8-billion shipbuilding program.
But Cullen quipped that if the Conservative government was truly grateful, it would not have slashed the coast guard budget by $20 million and chopped 300 personnel jobs.
Cullen – who represents the B.C. coastal riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley – also said Canada was so fortunate that the ship did not run aground and cause a disastrous oil spill.
Liberal MP Joyce Murray called the promise of the shipbuilding program "pathetic” due to the federal government's long line of military and naval procurement failures.
Province doesn’t have a dedicated tug
The Russian cargo ship incident is raising concerns among environmental groups and local First Nations that Canada is not prepared to handle similar events in the future, especially if the B.C. coast sees a spike in tanker traffic.
Darryl Anderson, a marine transport consultant with Wave Point Consulting, told CTV News Channel that a "key issue" is that B.C. does not have a dedicated tug assist vessel in place to handle large ships like the Simushir.
He noted that other jurisdictions in Australia, Western Europe and Northern Europe all have dedicated tug assistance ships in place.
Anderson added that it was first recommended that Canada establish a dedicated tug assist system over 20 years ago following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
In that spill, between 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil poured into Prince William Sound in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez tanker struck a reef.
"Twenty years on, and we're still having the same conversation," Anderson said.
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak told the B.C. legislature in Victoria that more needs to be done on the West Coast.
"This incident underlines the fact that we need to do more on our West Coast to be prepared," Polak said.
With files from The Canadian Press