Nfld. & Labrador

Oil spill fears in Placentia Bay over proposed changes to tanker rules

There is a controversy brewing in Placentia Bay over how far oil tankers can move into the bay without a pilot.
The proposal from the Atlantic Pilotage Authority would see the pilot boarding station moved further into the bay by about 15 kilometres.

There is a controversy brewing in Newfoundland's Placentia Bay over how far oil tankers can sail into the bay without a pilot.

The area has previously been deemed a risk for oil spills because of marine traffic, including tankers.

Now there's a proposal from the Atlantic Pilotage Authority to move the location where pilots board vessels further into the bay by about 15 kilometres. That has many people worried it'll lead to an even greater risk of spills. 

Ken King and his son Frank, who frequently fish in Placentia Bay, see at least a dozen tankers come and go from the Come By Chance oil refinery every week.

They feel that allowing tankers to move further into the bay would be a disaster waiting to happen.

"A foreign ship would have to pass by Red Island Shoal, Erne's Skull Rock, these are dangerous places," said Ken King.

King thinks that having the ships go another 15 or more kilometres, avoiding more shoals along the way, will only increase the chance of an accident happening.

Proposed changes

The current line that the ships travel on, right where the bay narrows into the channel, has been in place since 1990.

There were some shipping delays in the area earlier this year, but King said the problem was a shortage of pilots, not the current placement of the line.

"If it's not broken, why fix it," said King.

Cpt. Anthony McGuiness, CEO of the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, said it's not about fixing something that's broken, it's about making changes to improve efficiency.

In a conversation with CBC's Azzo Rezori, McGuiness said that modern tankers are much safer than they used to be, and that only empty tankers would be allowed to proceed without a pilot to the proposed inner line.

The idea is that the pilot boats currently stationed in Arnold's Cove would have a shorter distance to travel under the new plan.

Not convinced

Merv Wiseman spent two years as a tanker traffic controller in Placentia Bay 40 years ago.
Merv Wiseman, who spent two years as a tanker traffic controller in Placentia Bay 40 years ago, isn't satisfied with the pilot authority's explanation.

"It was always a concern," said Wiseman.

"We were always anxious, always very nervous. We were never at ease."

As recently as last year, a federal tanker safety panel declared that Placentia Bay was at 'high risk' for an oil spill.

Among the organizations opposed to the inner line are the FFAW and The Canadian Pilots Association.

Wiseman thinks that people are justified in their opposition to the changes.

"Everybody else that has looked at this can't seem to understand how we've arrived at this juncture," he said.

"To be studying and looking at a situation that will only undo everything good that has been done in the interest of safety, it borders on the bizarre to me quite frankly."

However the pilotage authority insists that it's nothing bizarre at all. McGuiness said the committee that's being set up to assess the proposal will deal with the facts, not the paranoia.

With files from Azzo Rezori

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