Tag Archives: shipping

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 (minor updates, June 2019)

By Alison Bate

Talks between the maritime employers and dock foremen in British Columbia are deadlocked, the organisation representing employers said Friday (Oct. 2011)

“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.

UPDATES:
* Push for a new port workers’ contract intensifies (June 25, 2018)
* Tentative deal reached to end B.C. port lockout (May 30, 2019)

10 questions about life on a containership

Pix CSCL Felixstowe

Photo of the 800-foot CSCL Felixstowe by Philip Gilston

May 30, 2011

By Alison Bate

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

It brought back fond memories of sailing across the Pacific on the CSCL Felixstowe. I got asked a ton of questions about the trip from L.A. to Shanghai. Here, in no particular order, are some of them along with 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. Continue reading

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.

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

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

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