Category Archives: Maritime

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

What if a containership ran aground on Nootka Island?

By Alison Bate

When a ship gets into trouble off the remote west coast of Vancouver Island, there are very few rescue services around.

The province relies on a commercial tug in the area being able to help out. Currently, major seagoing tugs carry electronic tracking devices so they can be located in real-time on computer charts. This information is provided to US and Canadian Marine Vessel Traffic Services to refer to if there is an emergency request for tug assistance. This is known as a “tug-of-opportunity”.

Apart from the fact that there may not be a tug capable of holding a large ship cruising by at the right time, there are several other flaws in this arrangement. Continue reading

Tug escort rules vary in B.C.

By Alison Bate

I must admit I was a little surprised not to get a straight answer from Transport Canada at first about the number of tug escorts traveling with condensate tankers into Kitimat.

I assumed it was clearly set down in the legislation whether tankers carrying this kind of hydrocarbon mixture required tug escorts and, if so, how many.

After all, set rules are laid down for laden oil tankers passing through Haro Strait. They are required to travel with tug escorts, as are laden crude oil tankers leaving the port of Vancouver, typically from Kinder Morgan Canada’s Westridge Terminal in Burnaby.

Continue reading

What if a tanker heading for Kitimat hit another vessel?

By Alison Bate

What would happen if a tanker on its way to Kitimat collided with a tug in the scenic Inside Passage?

According to the author of a new report, major flaws would be exposed in the way marine accidents are handled here in British Columbia.

“Nobody is essentially watching the store – at least not the whole building,” says EnviroEmerg consultant Stafford Reid, near the end of a mammoth 144-page report quietly released in mid-September.

Continue reading

The end of the New Carissa

By Alison Bate

The Ship That Will Not Die has finally been laid to rest, after nearly a decade stuck in the surf zone of a remote Oregon beach.

Titan Salvage used the jack-up barges Karlissa A and Karlissa B to remove the last visible remains of the New Carissa this week.

The stern of the New Carissa in 1999

The stern of the New Carissa in 1999

The Florida-based company signed a $16.5 million US contract with Oregon Department of State Lands last year and salvage work on the rusting remains of the stern began in May.

Wendy Wiles, from Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality, told the 2008 Pacific States/B.C. Oil Spill Task Force meeting in Victoria, B.C. recently that very little oil was released during the salvage project.

A series of failed attempts to remove the wreck followed after the ship ran aground during a storm on Feb. 4, 1999, leaking about 70,000 gallons of oil and killing around 2,300 seabirds.

The lawsuits also followed but in 2006, Oregon State Land Board approved a $22 million US settlement with the owners, and used most of the money to sign the current salvage contract with Titan.

Published in 2008, revised June 2019

See also:
* My story after landing on the wreck of the New Carissa in 1999
* New Carissa 20 years later (published in Feb. 2019)

The legacy of the Cosco Busan

By Alison Bate

It looks like a primitive computer game, but this real-time ship tracking system on the website shows the containership Cosco Busan hitting the Bay Bridge in San Francisco Bay last November.

The ship, leaving its berth in Oakland in heavy fog with the required pilot on board, is shown as a bright red arrow in the right of the animation. Its tug is shown as the blue arrow trailing in its wake of the containership. After hitting the bridge span, the ship anchors, and the tug scurries away.

More than 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel spilled into the Bay, killing at least 1,800 birds, oiling another 1,000, and triggering enormous clean-up costs.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan Cilley

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan Cilley

The ship left port on Dec.20, 2007, as this U.S. Coast Guard picture shows, but the repercussions still continue, the 2008 Pacific States/B.C. Oil Spill Task Force heard in Victoria, Canada on Sept. 18.

A barrage of bills in the wake of the spill last year is now in political limbo. California lawmakers were highly critical over the spill response and passed a series of bills to address the problems. But now an impasse between the state’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled legislature has put the bills in limbo.

The state budget was due to be set on July 1, but still hasn’t been decided. In retaliation, the governor vowed to veto all 800-plus bills under consideration – including the oilspill bills – unless lawmakers first approve a state budget by Sept.30.

“We’re all putting on our helmets and waiting to see what happens. It’s going to be very interesting,” said Steve Edinger, acting administrator of California’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

Other developments:

* Legislation has also been introduced at the federal level to make ships safer and assess and improve vessel tracking procedures.

* Around 14 investigations have been launched into the incident, including a key review by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, due to be released in early January.

* Fleet Management has offered to plead no contest to charges of negligence and falsifying documents related to the spill. A judge has refused to accept the offer. The company was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged by the US Justice Department in July.

* Capt. John Cota, the pilot navigating the Cosco Busan at the time, also faces several criminal charges in connection with the spill.