British Columbia

Freighter traffic frustrates Gulf Islands residents

"It's like having a large diesel truck coming and parking in your front yard," says Jeff Tarris, who has lived on South Pender Island for 16 years and has noted a marked increase in freighter activity in recent years.

'It's like having a large diesel truck coming and parking in your front yard'

A freighter, photographed from B.C.'s Gulf Islands, travels through the shipping lanes between Canada and the United States. (Shutterstock / NatureDiver)

Jeff Tarris was thrilled to be able to see the sunrise from his Gulf Island home on Thursday because he is used to having a freighter parked directly in his sightline.

Tarris, who has lived on South Pender Island for 16 years, says freighter traffic in Plumper Sound has ramped up in recent years and is negatively affecting the quality of life for locals. 

Tarris told CBC's The Early Edition in a phone interview that freighters can pull in to anchor and unload cargo onto barges at anytime of day or night — and they make a tremendous amount of noise when they do. 

"Their first initial hello is dropping chain. It's a tremendous noise," said Tarris, adding he has seen crews take up to 14 hours to offload materials onto barges in Plumper Sound.

"It's like having a large diesel truck coming and parking in your front yard, high-beam lights on, shining in your windows, running its engine constantly," he said. "It just goes on and you don't sleep."

But Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Chamber of Shipping of B.C., said vessel captains are complying with global rules and laws.

"When they go to anchor they are supposed to turn on every light they have on the upper decks of their ships," said Lewis-Manning.

Residents of the Gulf Islands have expressed their concerns in online and letter-writing campaigns.

In October 2018, a group of residents from Gabriola Island brought their concerns to the Parliamentary Committee on Transport, Communities and Infrastructure. The mandate of Gabriolans Against Freighter Anchorages is to stop the practice of parking freighters near the Gulf Islands altogether.

The Islands Trust Council also sent a letter to multiple federal ministries in fall 2018 calling for Ottawa to "take all measures possible to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the use of the 33 commercial freighter anchorage sites throughout the Southern Gulf Islands."

Tarris says he would like to see the freighters accommodated near the mainland rather than parked off South Pender. 

"This environment is not meant to house ships of that size ... let Vancouver take on the responsibility," he said.

A freighter sits just outside a residence in Cowichan Bay, B.C., near Victoria and the Southern Gulf Islands. (Peter Holmes)

'It's all about timing'

Lewis-Manning said most of the freighters parked off the Gulf Islands are waiting for cargo to arrive.

"Trying to keep that supply chain as efficient as possible keeps the ships at anchor for as little possible time," he said. "It's all about timing the vessel's arrival to the cargo's arrival."

According to Lewis-Manning, Transport Canada and the Port of Vancouver are using a data analysis program to identify supply chain issues and try to resolve them. Those issues can include port congestion and rail system delays.

Lewis-Manning said the Port of Vancouver has no jurisdiction in the Gulf Islands and cannot charge fees for boats to park there, but the option is being considered by the federal government.

"That is absolutely a discussion we are having," he said, noting that a regional plan is also in the works to establish "cascading and deliberate management" of anchorage spots in Nanaimo, Vancouver and near Victoria.

With files from The Early Edition

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