A new study by not-for-profit research centre Clear Seas provides a comprehensive picture of the commercial vessels operating in Canada’s Pacific region, aiming to help better assess and understand risks associated with commercial shipping in Canada’s Pacific waters.
This study, realized by Nuka Research and Planning Group, LLC, is the fifth body of work under Clear Seas’ Marine Transportation Corridors initiative, aiming to determine and describe risks related to commercial marine shipping activities in Canada, and to assist in marine spatial planning.
The knowledge gained through this analysis can be used to support initiatives related to proactive vessel management and marine domain awareness, and to assess potential areas of friction in marine spatial planning,
…Clear Seas explained.
-Global trade defines the big picture for ship traffic
Typical vessel paths in Canada’s Pacific waters highlight the role of Canada’s western ports as a gateway to trans-Pacific trade. Traffic transiting between Asia and Canada is representative of Canada’s economy, with commodity shipments dominating the exports from Canada and manufactured goods dominating the imports from Asia. As visualized in the map of international trade routes below, the shortest distance between the Pacific coast and Asia is a route that passes through the Aleutian Islands. Some ships will take a more southerly route avoiding U.S. territorial waters. These “great circle” routes represent the shortest distance between two points on the globe.
-Trade routes are influenced by environmental protection
The existence of the family of different great circle routes provides a fascinating insight into the interplay between environmental protection, economics and global trade patterns. As the global trade routes map shows, the shortest distance to or from Asia is via the direct great circle route. So why do so many ships (73% of them in 2016) take a longer route? The answer is that they are reducing time spent in Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with its pollution reduction regulations.
-Bulk commodity exports and containers are the dominant traffic in Canadas’ Pacific region
On average, each year, more than 4,000 large ships travel the trade routes through the waters in Canada’s Pacific region. A small fraction (approximately 5%) are just passing through on their way to other destinations, but the majority – around 4,000 ships in an average year – enter Canadian waters to load or offload cargo
-Oil carried both as fuel and as cargo are potential pollution threats
Just counting the number of ships does not give the full picture when it comes to oil. To get a clearer picture of the risk exposure related to the carriage of oil on vessels travelling in Canada’s Pacific region, the study digs deeper into the volumes and types of oil carried by ships both as a cargo and as fuel. Two broad types of oil are relevant to marine health and protection – persistent oils and non-persistent oils. The difference between the two lies in how long spilled oil is likely to remain in the marine environment. Non-persistent oils include jet fuels, gasoline, diesel, marine diesel, marine gas oil, home heating oil, and some light crude oils. When spilled, non-persistent oils will evaporate or dissolve in the water.
-Small ports play a big part in coastal traffic density
Vessel traffic in Canada’s Pacific waters is more than just large cargo vessels engaged in international trade. Tugs make up a key part of coastal traffic, providing essential transport of goods to remote and coastal communities, and delivering raw materials and finished goods to support key sectors of the local economy like sawmills and pulp mills. Tugs also assist ships while they dock and escort tankers near shore. As shown in the vessel density map below, they form the arteries that connect the smaller ports along Canada’s Pacific with each other and the economic centres. The goods in the barges moved by tug make up the bulk of domestic trade in the study area.
-Canada’s waters offer a sheltered marine highway for tugs and their cargo
In summer months, when the weather is calmer and storms are less likely, tugs travelling north along the coast tend to use a more direct and less sheltered route through Queen Charlotte Sound. In the winter months, when weather is harsher and less predictable, the sheltered Inside Passage through the north coast islands is the safer, preferred route.
-Cruise traffic brings oil to sensitive areas during the season
Cruise ships represent a small but very visible fraction of vessel traffic in Canada’s Pacific waters. As cruise ships often call at small ports in remote places without deep-water berths or escort tugs, these vessels are designed to have excellent maneuvering characteristics, especially at low speed, such that they can safely navigate narrow waterways and confined areas. Their propulsion systems are designed with fail safes to mitigate the risk of an engine failure. But cruise ships very often also carry heavy fuel oil – a potential source of persistent oil spills. As demonstrated in the monthly map series below, cruise traffic is highly seasonal, with the first cruise ships usually travelling up the British Columbia coast in March and the last in early October. The season peaks through the summer and early fall with highest densities seen between May and September.
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