Comment: Cargo ships regularly dump shipping containers into the ocean; hardly anyone seems to care


Commentary by an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria.

On the night of October 20-21, the Maltese-flagged Zim Kingston did what international transport ships do all the time in Canadian waters: she dumped a large number of shipping containers into the sea.

The only reason this caught our attention is that the ship also caught fire, for reasons that remain somewhat of a mystery, and burned hazardous material for weeks off our shores.

Lost in the story is that international transport ships regularly dump containers in the ocean, and hardly anyone seems to care. The only time it makes the news is when it occurs in the immediate vicinity of the coast.

But it is surely happening even more often farther afloat, but within Canada’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone, adding microplastics and toxins to our marine ecosystem. The complete lack of transparency in this industry means the public never learns the truth.

The Zim Kingston disaster is a wake-up call and a stark reminder that the federal government – Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada – must take immediate action to better regulate international shipping. Three ideas immediately spring to mind.

First, stricter limits should be placed on the stacking height of shipping containers, and especially those carrying hazardous materials. News flash: the Pacific Ocean has a lot of stormy weather, and if a few waves cause ships to dump more than 100 containers, something is not working.

As it stands, shipping companies have strong insurance policies to cover losses and don’t fear heavy fines to tackle unsafe behavior. This must change, and all levels of government should pressure the federal government to take action. When wrecks run aground on our coasts, it also becomes a municipal problem.

Second, the voluntary program that required large vessels to slow down in the Salish Sea in order to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales must become permanent regulations.

Since 2017, an innovative program managed by the Port of Vancouver, First Nations, the federal government and the shipping industry has instructed manned vessels to slow to 11 knots in the water and avoid areas of habitat. keys. About half of all vessels have voluntarily complied, showing tangible benefits for orca hunting practices, as whales depend on echolocation to hunt, and the underwater noise frequencies emitted by ships confuse and distract. whales.

The model shows that slower vessels can increase foraging time by 40%, a huge boon for an endangered species.

Third, the thorny issue of greenhouse gas emissions from these ships. When international ships enter Canadian waters, the GHGs and air pollutants from those ships (via heavily polluting heavy fuel oil) do not belong to any government, not even in Canada.

International transport vessels get a full emissions pass. Even though shipping accounts for about three percent of all GHG emissions – a number that is expected to rise sharply as consumption increases – no sovereign state wants to claim them, and the issue is a political hot potato for the UN. and the International Maritime Organization. .

Industry and national governments must take responsibility for these unowned emissions and work diligently to decarbonize these polluting ships. Ditto for the cruise ship industry.

I call on all citizens and all levels of government to be aware of the impacts occurring off our coasts and to demand accountability and tighter regulations from a lagging industry.

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