Category Archives: Maritime

Containership in Tacoma, Washington State, US

Maritime clips

Here’s a short selection from the hundreds of shipping articles I’ve written while covering the west coast of North America, including California, Oregon, Washington State, B.C.(Canada) and Alaska:

* Kyle Washington: The Prince of Tides (BC Business)

* Escape from the 91st Floor (9/11)

* Armada Rescues Trapped New Yorkers (9/11)

* The Ship That Will Not Die (New Carissa)

* B.C. longshore casuals take a beating

* Fight over Arctic shipping routes

* Crossing the Columbia Bar

* Stranded for nine months in Vancouver Harbor (Globe and Mail)

* Sailing To Shanghai: How I crossed the Pacific on a containership

* What the Truckers’ Fight Is All About (The Tyee)

* Summaries of my articles on U.S.Transportation Research website (Search “Alison Bate”)

COLUMN WRITING

* Double Trouble: Exxon Mobil slow to build double hulls

* Death by Lifeboat: Safety drills may cost your life

* The Oil Detectives: What’s killing California birds?

MY SHIPPING BACKGROUND

I edited two maritime magazines (in Canada and the U.S.) and wrote a regular column on maritime safety for three years. My articles have appeared in The Globe and Mail, BCBusiness magazine, Marine Digest, The Journal of Commerce, Maritime Magazine, Shipping & Trade News, Containerisation International, among others.

Pix eulachon

The monster of Kitimaat and other tales at Enbridge hearing

Everybody loves a good storyteller and I’m no exception.

Last week, I listened to some of the live streaming of the Enbridge hearings from Kitimaat, the First Nations village a few clicks outside the company town of Kitimat in northwest B.C.

It was the tail end of the first day and the Haisla’s Chief Councillor, Ellis Ross, was telling how Kitimaat was founded and the stories of betrayal over the years.

Now I’ve been to nearby Kitimat, and my memories are of a blue-collar town dominated by the blazing hot furnaces inside Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan);  the Eurocan Pulp and Paper mill spewing God knows what (now closed); and touring around Methanex  (also closed).  To be honest, I never even saw the native Indian village, on the east side of the Douglas Channel.

I’ve always known Kitimat and nearby Prince Rupert as shippers of the “dangerous and the dirty”.  If Enbridge has its way, shipping bitumen and condensate through the long fiords embracing the Northwest Coast will continue that tradition, managing to combine the  worst of both worlds: the dangerous (for the environment) and the dirty (heavy oil).

But Chief Ellis Ross and other members of the Haisla Nation took us back eloquently to the time before the “dangerous and the dirty”, before pollution wiped out the eulachon runs and when whales chased herring all the way up the Douglas Channel.

Continue reading

Longshore foremen talks stalemated in B.C.

Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 (see update)

By Alison Bate

Talks between the maritime employers and dock foremen in British Columbia are deadlocked, the organisation representing employers said Friday (Oct.28)

“Nothing’s happening. We’re at an impasse, ” said Greg Vurdela, vice president of marketing for the B.C Maritime Employers Association.

He also accused dock foremen in Local 514 of the International Longshore Warehouse Union of “dirty tricks” in delaying ship handling at the end of the third-quarter.

Foremen aren’t supposed to work more than 624 hours in a quarter, but nearly always exceed that, according to Vurdela. If they weren’t bargaining, at the end of this September they would have brought in more foremen, as usual. Instead, a group of foremen decided to stop at 624 hours.

This meant one cruise ship left late, one container ship lost an entire graveyard shift and several vessels loading logs bound for China were delayed a couple of days.

The 450 dock foremen in ILWU Local 514 traditionally finish negotiating after the main longshore unions have settled their contract.

In this case, the main ILWU longshore contract was settled – with great fanfare – in May. It was heralded as a historic deal, covering eight years and involving approximately 4,500 workers in five ILWU Locals in Vancouver, New Westminster, Vancouver Island, Prince Rupert and Stewart.

The Canadian government was heavily involved in the talks, appointing two federal mediators even before both contracts ran out on March 31, 2010. For a while, the mediators batted back and forth between the main longshore negotiators and negotiators for the foremen in ILWU 514.

However, Vurdela said although the federal mediator hasn’t officially booked out, the last talks involving ILWU 514 were held Sept. 15 and nothing much happened then or has happened since.

“We’ve made our final offer, and the negotiating committee is not willing to address it.”

Vurdela claimed there were several sticking points involving wages, benefits and languages changes that when added up meant the ILWU 514 folks wanted a richer settlement than the main longshore agreement.

He said foremen make on average, including benefits, about $200,000 a year, and a significant number make $250,000.

“I’m left not understanding why guys who make $250,000 are not signing onto this,” he added.

ILWU Local 514 has not returned email or phone requests for comments to date.

© Alison Bate, 2011.

UPDATE: Agreement finally reached (Jan.31, 2012 press release)

Seaspan wins second prize in massive shipbuilding deal

Oct. 19, 2011

By Alison Bate

Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards came second to Halifax’s Irving Shipbuilding in the
big contract deal announced today.

In a nutshell:

Seaspan workers

Seaspan workers celebrate winning big government contract at their North Vancouver home on Nov.2, 2011

1st: Irving Shipbuilding, Halifax, Nova Scotia. $25 billion to build combat vessels.

2nd: Seaspan Marine Corp, British Columbia. $8 billion to build non-combat vessels.

Out of luck: Joint venture between Quebec’s Davie shipyard, SNC-Lavalin and Daewoo (technology).

Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth put a brave spin on it immediately after the announcement: “While we felt we were more than capable of building the combat ships, we are honoured to have been chosen to provide non-combat vessels for the men and women of the Royal Canadian Navy and Coast Guard,” he said in a press release.

Seaspan’s Jonathan Whitworth

He said the $8 billion program will not only inject billions into the local economy, but will create an average of 4,000 jobs over the next eight years. “In addition, the Federal Government has plans for a further 17 vessels which should fall under the non-combat package.”

MORE INFO:
* Jubilation greets $8-billion shipbuilding contract for B.C.

* For background on Seaspan, read my article “Kyle Washington: Prince of Tides

* Government of Canada Press Release

My 9/11 rescue and survivor stories reprinted

Two articles I wrote shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre have just been reprinted in a 10-year retrospective.

Tugboat rescuing people escaping collapse of Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001

The tugboat Kathleen Turecamo rescues people from Lower Manhattan (Penn Maritime photo)

The first one, Armada rescues trapped New Yorkers, was based on extensive phone interviews with tugboat owners with Reinauer Transportation and Moran Towing, as well as officials with U.S. Coast Guard Activities New York and Vessel Traffic Services New York.

The second article Escape from the 91st Floor followed an interview with Claire McIntyre – a staffer with the American Bureau of Shipping – and described her dramatic escape from the north tower of the World Trade Centre.

Both articles were printed in Seattle-based Marine Digest magazine, a magazine I edited at one time, which has since changed its name to Cargo Business News. The articles can also be found directly on this website at:

* Armada rescues trapped New Yorkers (9/11)

* Escape from the 91st Floor (9/11)

Other 9/11 boat rescue links:

* List of 9/11 Rescue Boats

* Moran Crews Cited for 9/11 Evacuation Endeavors (Sep. 2005)

Top 10 questions about life on a containership

May 30, 2011

While surfing the internet, I ran across this photo of a ship I sailed on a few years ago.

Pix CSCL Felixstowe

Photo of the 800-foot CSCL Felixstowe by Philip Gilston

It brought back fond memories of sailing across the Pacific on the CSCL Felixstowe. I got asked a ton of questions about the trip, when I returned. Here, in no particular order, are some of my answers:

1. What was the food like?

Wonderful, if you like curries. Fortunately, I do. Chief cook Ignacio (Nick) Villanueva had an exhausting job, cooking for 25 of us every day, helped only by messman Lorenzo (Laurence) Ramos.

Nick often ended up cooking separate meals for the Indian officers and Filipino crew. Indian officers don’t eat beef and some don’t eat pork, while the Filipinos didn’t like spicy Indian curries.

A typical lunch for the Indian officers included a freshwater fish called Tilapia, potato and cauliflower curry, rice, salad and melon. Meanwhile, the Filipinos had grilled beef, rice, bitter gourd and melon.

On Sundays, Jina Noronha, wife of first officer Rodney Noronha, often helped out by cooking biriani for the Indian officers, along with raita, a delicious yoghurty dip.

“We measure our time left in birianis. I’ve got two birianis left,” said Capt. Alfred Gomez, who was signing off shortly.

2. Did you drink every night with the Captain?

Capt. Gomez was a staunch Catholic who discouraged drinking and held Sunday prayer meetings with rip-roaring singing to boost crew morale and camaraderie.

“I see it as the only way. Instead of getting soaked in alcohol, you are getting soaked in God’s word,” he said. To this day, I can’t hear “This is the day that the Lord has made” without feeling emotional.

Rum rations for the crew are long gone, replaced by strict anti-alcohol and drug policies. Although beer was allowed off-duty, it was quietly frowned upon. I drank three beers while on board, and even then felt guilty.

The best tales from the captain’s table came during lunchtime, when the captain, chief engineer Anil Sharma and third officer Praveen Prabhu traded stories.

The Suez Canal is nicknamed the Marlboro Canal, and if you don’t pay the pilot with cartons of cigarettes, they won’t move the ship. One time the captain finally got a pilot who said he didn’t take cigarettes.

“I’ll just have coffee,” he said, then but then promptly added tea, butter and a huge list of other demands.

“Better you take the cigarettes,” said the captain, finally.

3. Was it risky, a woman sailing with all those men?

Rodney and Annette Noronha on the bridge

No, they were wonderful! And I wasn’t not the only woman on board. When I boarded, first officer Rodney Noronha was waiting to greet me with his wife, Jina, and six-year-old daughter, Annette. Jina and Annette had been sailing with Rodney for the last four months, and on and off ships since Annette was a toddler. The wife and two-year-old son of second engineer Ravi Singh also sailed with us.

The two wives, two kids and myself were all Supernumeraries, an archaic-sounding word also applied to actors who appear on stage but have no lines to speak. Pretty accurate, in this case. I was the Fifth Supernumerary.

4. How long did the trip take?

The ship was pretty fast, with a cruising speed of 24 knots (nautical miles an hour), so it only took 11 days to sail from LA/Long Beach to Qingdao in northeast China.

We sailed the Great Circle route, skirting the Aleutian Islands off Alaska before arching across the Pacific to Qingdao – more than 5,800 nautical miles in all.

A Super Hurricane northeast of the Philippines delayed us a day and at Qingdao, we hit fog. So we arrived in Shanghai at dawn 13 sailing days (14 days by date) after leaving Long Beach.

5. Did you get seasick?

Streaming across the Pacific

Streaming across the Pacific

I used to throw up regularly on yachts crossing the English Channel. Fortunately, the CSCL Felixstowe rode the waves much better than a small yacht.

The worst times came southeast of Japan, as we hit the aftermath of a Super Hurricane called Dianmu. That night I was lying in my bunk sweating and headachy as the ship pitched back and forth like a bucking bronco. Winds at the time reached Force 8, but we missed the worst of the hurricane.

6. Can I sail on a containership, too?

Containerships don’t usually take passengers, so I was very lucky. The crew is too busy most of the time to look after passengers and there are also insurance complications.

Bulk carriers have more leisurely schedules, and are more likely to take passengers, but they are still not cheap. Several companies cater to freighter travel, though. Check out Freighter Travel and Seaplus.

7. What cargo did you carry?

Actually, a lot of empty 40-footers! We left California with 1,768 empty containers and just 225 full ones, carrying mainly waste paper and scrap metal.

The transpacific trade is notoriously imbalanced: ships loaded with consumer goods arrive in the U.S. from Asia and often return empty.

8. What did the crew do all day?

Pix of two of the officers

Second officer Praveen Menon and third officer Praveen Prabhu

They were all pretty busy during their work shifts, and during time off, had different rituals.

Typically they’d slump exhausted or bored watching DVDs or listening to music in their cabins. A hard-core of ping-pong fanatics got together regularly in the little on-board gym. My personal memories are of playing the Memory Game on the bridge with little Annette.

Time and again, as we sailed across the Pacific, my desire to idealize the crew’s way of life received a cold dose of salty water from those that lived this life daily. I was looking for adventure while the captain and crew were looking for their floating office to run as smoothly as possible.

Second officer Praveen Menon laughed when I asked if being at sea was a romantic life. “No, I don’t think so. Maybe in a passenger ship, but not a merchant ship. They have the atmosphere to be romantic, but here the atmosphere is not romantic at all. It’s purely work.”

9. Did the crew speak English?

Yes, they all spoke English. Captains and officers are required to speak English if they trade in international waters, and the Filipino crew had learnt English at home.

10. What flag did the ship sail under?

It was all very convoluted, but typical for international shipping. I sailed with 20 Indian officers and Filipino crew on a ship built in South Korea, registered (flagged) in Cyprus, owned and managed by a Canadian company and operated by a Chinese state shipping line.

* See my full story about the trip: Sailing to Shanghai

Eight-year contract approved on Vancouver docks

Just heard that the main dockworkers’ union in Vancouver and other B.C. ports have reached a watershed eight-year deal.

The contract between the International Longshore Warehouse Union Canada and maritime employers ran out more than a year ago. But that still leaves seven years on the new contract, an impressive length, when you consider that previous contracts lasted for only three years.

More details can be found at Maritime Magazine’s website.

See my previous story B.C. longshore casuals take a beating published in Fall 2009 for more background about the union.

Enbridge releases tanker plans for Kitimat

Better late than never, I’ve been plugging my way through the marine side of Enbridge’s application to bring supertankers into B.C.’s northwestern waters.

Last weekend, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw Enbridge’s huge advert in The Vancouver Sun claiming its Northern Gateway project would make “B.C.’s North Coast safer for all vessels”.

The company must be cursing the timing of the terrible oil spill now reaching the shores of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida.

Enbridge’s proposal doesn’t involve an oil rig, but the spill demonstrates yet again what oil response experts have always said: once the oil is in the water, you’re hooped.

Anyway, this weekend I downloaded Volume 8A of Enbridge’s proposal to the National Energy Board – the volume dealing with marine transportation.

A lot of the info is simply background filler, and despite being 152 pages long, details are very sketchy.

For example, talking about the type of tankers to be used, Enbridge’s report notes: “At this stage of the project, there is limited information regarding marketing plans, trade routes, or details of potential charterers or their tankers and, as a result, specific plans or technical documents of the design ships cannot be provided.”

However, here are some the key parts of the plan, as described in the report.

How much extra traffic?

About 220 vessels per year would travel through Douglas Channel, an increase of 86 per cent compared to current traffic to Kitimat. At Wright Sound, the project-related tankers would cause a 13 per cent increase in reporting traffic. And at the Prince Rupert MCTS station, project-related tankers would cause an increase of 3 per cent for the total reporting traffic.

What route would the tankers take?

The tankers would use one of three main routes:

1. The Northern Approach (for tankers arriving from or departing to Asian ports). 158 nautical miles. Via Haida Gwaii through Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, Browning Entrance, Principe Channel, Nepean Sound, Otter Channel, Squally Channel, Lewis Passage, Wright Sound and Douglas Channel.

2. The Southern Approach (Direct) (for tankers arriving from or departing to west coast ports south of Kitimat) 98 naut. miles. Via Queen Charlotte Sound, Hecate Strait, Caamaño Sound, Campania Sound, Squally Channel, Lewis Passage, Wright Sound and Douglas Channel.

3. The Southern Approach (via Principe Channel), (in weather conditions where Caamaño Sound cannot be used) 133 naut. miles. This route goes via Hecate Strait, Browning Entrance, Principe Channel, Nepean Sound, Otter Channel, Squally Channel, Lewis Passage, Wright Sound and Douglas Channel.

What kind of tankers would be used?

Tankers calling at the Kitimat Terminal would, most likely, be chartered. They would all be double-hulled, due to international regulations requiring all tankers in international trade to be double hulled by 2010.

Most likely, Aframax or Suezmax tankers would carry condensate and the larger VLCC (supertankers) and Suezmax tankers would carry export oil cargo.

Pilots, escort and harbor tugs

Local pilots would board and assist all incoming and outgoing tankers. During good weather and in daylight, helicopters might be used to lower pilots onto the tanker.

A close escort tug would be used for all laden and ballasted (empty) tankers, beginning at the pilot boarding stations (Triple Island and proposed sites in Browning Passage and Caamaño Sound) to and from the marine terminal. The close escort tug would normally be positioned approximately 500 metres astern of the tanker, or as directed by the shipmaster or pilot during transit.

* A tethered tug, in addition to a close escort tug, would be used for all laden tankers in the Confined Channel Assessment Area (CCAA). The tug would be tethered to the stern of the laden tanker at all times, ready to assist with steering or slowing down.

* Three or four tugs for berthing and two or three tugs for unberthing the tanker. One of these tugs could also provide escort services.

Rescue tugs

At least one of the escort tugs would be equipped to provide ocean rescue capability and would be available to any ship in distress along the north coast of British Columbia.

Tanker speed

Average tanker speeds close to shore would be 8 to 12 knots: eight to 10 knots in confined areas and 10 to 12 knots in straight channel areas such as Principe Channel and Douglas Channel.

Navigation aids

Radar would be installed along important sections of the Northern and Southern Approaches to monitor all marine traffic and provide additional guidance to pilots and other vessels in the area.

(Posted: June 8, 2010 by Alison Bate)
RELATED:
* What if a tanker heading for Kitimat hit another vessel?
* Enbridge’s marine safety plans
* Emergency prevention, preparedness and response – report by Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel

Fight over Arctic shipping routes

Pix two ship

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy mapping together in the Arctic (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Patrick Kelley)

By Alison Bate

In September 2009, two German heavylift ships dropped anchor at Novyy Port after a historic trip, transiting the legendary Northeast Passage over the top of Russia.

After discharging 44 cargo modules in the Siberian outpost, the MV “Beluga Fraternity” and “Beluga Foresight” sailed on toward Rotterdam with the remaining 3,500 tons of construction materials.

The ships left Ulsan, South Korea  on July 23 and 28 respectively, and although accompanied by Russian icebreakers for part of the journey, only met small ice bergs, ice fields and ice floes on what used to be an impenetrable route.

Traditionally, these ships would have traveled from Korea through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean and finally the Atlantic –  roughly 3,000 nautical miles longer than using the Northeast Passage or so-called Northern Sea Route.

As commercial trips like these become more common – due to global warming – the world’s major players are jockeying for position to exploit the Arctic for their own interests.

Geopolitical, economic and environmental issues are all at stake, not to mention changes to the way of life of those living in the Arctic. The five Arctic nations include Canada, the U.S. (Alaska), Russia, Norway and Denmark (Greenland), but other countries such as China are also hovering nearby.

The Canadian Navy’s Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific discussed these thorny issues at the recent Association of Canadian Port Authorities conference in Prince Rupert, B.C.

Rear Admiral Tyrone Pile said that while Canada’s government has pledged to build more ships and increase its Arctic infrastructure, very little has actually happened. Meanwhile, Russia is investing billions of dollars in infrastructure to its Arctic ports as well as flexing military capability.

“We (Canadians) aspire to be an Arctic nation, but Russia is,” he said. “Why are we not paying attention to the Arctic?”

China is also engaged, renting space from Norway for a permanent ice weather station in the Arctic, sending research ships for the last eight years, and now developing icebreaker ships.

In the U.S., Sen. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska is also concerned and has introduced a bill, the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment Implementation Act of 2009, to improve shipping safety and include funding for navigational aides, vessel tracking, oil-spill response, search and rescue capabilities and ice-breaking escorts.

At the Prince Rupert conference, Pile showed pictures of the Arctic icecap in 2001 and 2007, noting that one-third of the ice had disappeared in just six years, Of the three possible shipping routes, the Northern Sea Route over Russia would be the first one to truly open up, he suggested.

The second route, through Canada’s Northwest Passage, opened up for the first time in 2007, but its potential is a bit of a red herring, according to Pile. “It’s difficult to get through; more like a backroad detour,” he said. The third route, the Trans-Polar, will be the last to open up.

Pile said the Arctic is also attracting attention because of its vast untapped amounts of oil, gas, gold, zinc, and other minerals. A U.S. Geological Survey report in 2008 estimated that the Arctic has about 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil; 30 per cent of the undiscovered natural gas; and 20 per cent of the undiscovered natural gas liquids. More fish are also likely to migrate north, due to global warming.

Pile didn’t discuss the legal issues, but ownership of the Arctic waters is hotly disputed, and a fascinating race against time is under way.

Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), each country controls resources up to 200 nautical miles offshore, but its territory can be expanded if it can prove that underwater ridges and rock formations are connected to its continental shelf.

Russia, Norway and Denmark have already made submissions, while Canada has until 2013 to submit its scientific data. The U.S. has not signed on to UNCLOS, but is working with Canada to locate the outer edge of the North American continental shelf.

For the second summer in a row, scientists on board the U.S. Coast Guard cutter “Healy” have been mapping the Arctic seafloor with their counterparts on board the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker “Louis S. St-Laurent”.

Despite working together, the two countries are at odds over who owns the Northwest Passage. Canada claims that the seasonal shipping lane is internal Canadian waters while the U.S. and others argue that it is an international strait. The U.S. and Canada also disagree on how the border should extend into the ocean between Alaska and the Yukon.

However, while some Canadians view the U.S. as a danger to their sovereignty, Pile doesn’t see it that way. “We will present our views, but we aren’t going to go to war over that,” he said in an interview. “It’s in both our interests to work together in the Arctic.”

Note: This article first appeared in Cargo Business News

B.C. longshore casuals take a beating

By Alison Bate
First published in Maritime Magazine, Fall 2009

Vancouver longshore worker Karen Crossan stood in the ghostly dispatch hall looking vainly for work on tonight’s graveyard shift.

“I’m bored and I am broke,” she said, after learning there was no work that night, yet again. “There were 150 jobs for the afternoon shift, but only a few casuals got out.”

Crossan only comes in from Port Coquitlam twice a week nowadays looking for work, as it’s usually a wasted 40-minute trip each way. She last worked ten days ago.

In the first eight months of 2009, she clocked less than 300 hours work as a B Board casual in International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 500. This year, B Board casuals like Crossan will be lucky to make $30,000, compared with an average $70,000 last year.

The recession has hit the dockworkers in British Columbia hard, with work hours down by 600,000 hours or 17.6 per cent – the equivalent of 400 full-time jobs.

Container work has taken the biggest dive, and Vancouver’s Local 500 has seen a 23 per cent drop in work hours from January to the end of August 2009, year-on-year.

While full union members are surviving, the 1,200 casuals have suffered dramatically, especially on the lower boards. In Vancouver, A Board casuals get preference over those on B, C, T and OO Boards and the numbers speak for themselves.

According to Gordie Westrand, president of Local 500 (*), last year’s A Board easily averaged $87,000 last year. This year, they’ll be lucky to make $50,000.

T Board casuals last year made about $30,000 last year; this year, maybe $2,000 or $3,000. The way things are going, Westrand predicted it could be 2020 before they become full union members. As for the OO Boards, they made $15,000 to $20,000 in 2008. This year, a pitiful $51 to date.

“There’s just despair,” Westrand told Maritime Magazine. Some regulars on the C Boards, who have been coming to the dispatch hall for the last four years only worked one day last month. They can’t afford to pay rent, and have run out of employment insurance. He said one guy has been forced to live in his car as he can’t pay his rent any more.

“I’ve been down on the waterfront for 44 years and seen some of the worst recessions. The 1975 one lasted from mid-April to mid-September. But this one has already lasted longer: from January until now (September),” he added.

Crossan realizes she’s luckier than most, with money still coming in from her husband, a full union longshore worker. But even these union members aren’t getting the work they like.

“Lots of the guys are having to do jobs they haven’t done for 20 years. I feel for them,” she said.

Tom Dufresne, president of ILWU Canada(*), said the union took on 700 new workers about two years ago and trained them to handle the boom. Now there’s no work for them.

The union is also preparing to negotiate its contract with the BC Maritime Employers Association, with talks due to start Dec.1. The contract expires March 31. “I think it’s going to be an interesting round of negotiations,” said Dufresne.

Over on Vancouver Island, work hours are down 17 per cent this year compared with 2008. Unlike Vancouver, they don’t handle container traffic, and never really benefited from the boom.

Brett Hartley, president of ILWU Local 508, said that the downturn in the forest industry and closure of many mills has caused a steady decline in work in the last ten years. There were about 400 union members in 1999; now there are 115 union members. At the beginning of this year, there were also 60 to 70 casuals but Hartley is not sure what the numbers are now.

“They’ve been taking a beating,” said Hartley. “Some of them have been hit twice.” A lot of mill workers became longshore casuals when mills closed or took down time, and are now suffering again.

The Vancouver Island local is based in Chemainus but uses a telephone dispatch system to cover its vast area. Workers may live in Victoria and travel to work in Port Alberni three hours away, an increasingly expensive proposition.

Currently, the biggest source of work is handling raw log exports at Port Alberni, Nanaimo and Island Timberlands’ terminal, south of Nanaimo.

It’s dangerous work and some people disapprove of raw log exports, but Hartley said it was happening anyway. Logs were being towed or barged to U.S. ports and exported to China, Korea and Japan from there. The union intervened, and now at least its members are getting the work in B.C.

At Cowichan Bay, the export of Western Forest Products lumber has really slumped. Full ships carrying 21 to 24 million board feet of lumber used to sail tor the eastern U.S. every month. So far this year, only four vessels have arrived and they left half-empty.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” Hartley concluded. “The difficult part from our view is that this scenario has been going on for a number of years. It’s always been a scramble.”

© 2009 Maritime Magazine
UPDATE: * Eight-year contract approved on Vancouver docks (May 4, 2011):
UPDATE: * Rob Ashton is now the president of ILWU Canada
UPDATE: * Reno Voci is now the president of ILWU Local 500