Marine safety

Protecting our waters and coasts

Canada has the world’s longest coastline, home to vibrant communities and abundant marine life. Marine safety measures ensure that we can continue to grow our economy through seaborne trade in a safe and sustainable way.

Bustling marine traffic in Vancouver Harbour

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What does the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion mean for marine traffic?

What does the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion mean for marine traffic?
In over 60 years of operations in the Port of Vancouver, the Trans Mountain pipeline terminal has never had a spill. Additional measures planned for the port will raise the level of safety to well above the already high global shipping standards. [1:37]

Safety measures

Whether it’s a ferry, recreational boat, or oil tanker, almost all marine vessels carry some amount of petroleum product onboard. And all motorized marine vessels create some underwater noise that can disturb aquatic life. That’s why regulations and safety measures enforced by various government agencies exist. They ensure that potential negative impacts to the marine environment caused by any type of marine vessel are kept to a minimum. These measures also help explain why there has not been a single spill from marine operations in the over 60 years that Trans Mountain has been loading tankers with petroleum.

Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Pacific Pilotage Authority, and the Port of Vancouver are the government bodies responsible for establishing, implementing and monitoring the regulations and practices of oil tankers. Federal shipping legislation ensures that vessels move in accordance with safe navigation principles, while spill preparedness and response occurs in accordance with various regulations, plans, and initiatives. Under the Oceans Protection Plan, the Federal government will invest $1.5 billion over 5 years in coastal protections to increase the government’s capacity to prevent and improve response to marine incidents.

Tugboats protect the Burrard Inlet

Good piloting and sound navigation

Good piloting and sound navigation practices are essential to preventing oil spills and harming marine life. Because vessels are responsible for any oil that’s spilled, their pilots and crews have every incentive to navigate their vessels well and ensure that they are properly maintained. Pilots and crew members must be trained and certified according to International Maritime Organization requirements. They must report their route, cargo, possible vessel defects, and other information to the Canadian Coast Guard 24 hours before entering vessel traffic zones. They cannot enter the zones until receiving clearance, and they are monitored when entering, leaving, and operating in the zone. 

To protect the southern resident killer whale population from underwater noise, ships are rerouted or reduced in speed during times of high traffic or in areas of high sensitivity. For instance, the Haro Strait Vessel Slow-down Trial required all commercial vessels transiting the Haro Strait to slow down to 11 knots – roughly 20km/hr. And the Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program is planning a number of similar initiatives focused on reducing underwater noise. 

Killer whale leaps in Vancouver Harbour
Harbour walkway in Vancouver's Stanley Park

Good ships and proper maintenance

Oil tankers must conform to strict build, manning, maintenance and operating standards established by the International Maritime Organization and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. Transport Canada is authorized to carry out inspections of vessels to ensure compliance with quality standards and it also keeps foreign vessels that do not meet safety standards and regulatory requirements from operating in Canadian waters. Any vessel that receives petroleum cargo at Westridge Terminal must also be pre-screened by Trans Mountain to further ensure quality control. 

Required maintenance measures, such as cleaning the propeller and ensuring a smooth underwater hull surface, reduce underwater noise which might interfere with whales’ ability to navigate or hunt. Other guidelines exist which provide advice for designing quieter ships and reducing noise from existing ships.

Canadian search and rescue helicopter in Vancouver Harbour

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