Tag Archives: Canada

An interview with author and poet Ian Williams

Pix Ian Williams

Ian Williams at a coffee shop on Main, Vancouver in May 2019 (Photo: Alison Bate)

In his debut novel Reproduction, Vancouver-based poet and author Ian Williams tells the story of Felicia, a teenager and immigrant from an unnamed island.

“I not from anywhere,’ she tells Edgar, an older white guy from a wealthy German family. They meet in hospital where their mothers are seriously ill and their lives become intertwined over the generations.

Williams explores non-traditional family arrangements, racism and male entitlement in Reproduction, published by Random House Canada.

I met up with Williams in a cafe on Main Street, Vancouver recently and my Q. and A. interview is now online at Cascadia Magazine.

Gabriola Pass without an engine

Pix yacht

Sailing Pelegrin in the Gulf Islands (Pix: Alison Bate)

“You won’t get any thanks for this, you realize?”

My brother-in-law John is talking to Mickey, a Gabriola Island buddy with a 35-foot sailboat and the willingness to tow us home.

“Not the damsels-in-distress routine, you mean?”

“God, no, that’s not going to work. Won’t go over at all well.”

Sailing in Pelegrin in the Gulf Islands

Sailing in Pelegrin in the Gulf Islands, B.C., Canada (Pix: Alison Bate)

Gill and I are on her veteran Martin 29 sailboat, with a dead engine and limping in light to zero winds back to Degnen Bay after four nights in the Gulf Islands in Canada.

The rusty but usually reliable Volvo engine, circa 1974, had a couple of starting hiccups before we set sail. But nothing that Gill – my twin sister – didn’t think a good engine run wouldn’t solve.

The first day, we beat south on “Pelegrin” from Gabriola to Prevost, a quiet island opposite Saltspring.  A steady five-knot SE kept us sailing and happy all day, before dropping anchor in Glenthorne Passage around 7pm. The biggest decision of the day? How much carrot cake to eat.

Our engine woes began the second day. Continue reading

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

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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

Bowen Island’s Olympic moment

Marching down the road to the dock, Bowen Islanders prepare for the Olympic torch ceremonies the day before the big event.


By Alison Bate

It was dark and sleepy as I drove down to Snug Cove at 5:30 a.m. yesterday, but every house had its lights on.

I parked the car, offloaded my bike and pedalled across the cool damp field to Snug Cove. I passed walkers with their headlights on as I trundled across the boardwalk and left it outside the library.

“It’s like waiting for the bus,” I heard, as I stood outside the library, surrounded in the dark by hundreds of fellow islanders, many wearing red and white or the Olympic red mittens – none of which showed in the dark. It was chilly, and we were all huddled up, waiting for something to happen.

“Ooh, there it is,” and we looked up the road to see an orange wobbly flame, with a huge crowd of people walking behind it, ghosts in the dark. “Why are there two flames?” asked someone in the crowd. The flame or flames seemed to disappear from view somewhere near the General Store, and we resumed our waiting-for-the-bus positions. Continue reading

Bint el Sudan, my grandfather. . .and me

My grandfather E.E.Burgess, left, and another W.J. Bush agent in Africa

On a trip that took me to Africa, I found my grandfather’s lasting legacy—the continent’s signature scent—in a market in Sudan.

This story “The Bint Formula” was published in the December 2009 issue of Reader’s Digest Canada magazine.

For more information about Bint el Sudan, see the following:

* Surprise in the Souk

* Memories of Bint el Sudan

* 36 bottles of Bint el Sudan

* The history of Bint el Sudan (on Perfume Projects’ website)

* Where to buy Bint el Sudan in North America

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