Tankers, which transport liquid bulk such as oil and gas, are subject to very strict, rigorous inspections and legislation. Oil transport must also meet oil companies’ high standards.

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Tankers are:

  • reliable, safe and environment-friendly
  • a mode of transportation that has the capacity and means to intervene in case of an emergency.

To carry oil, ship owners must meet Transport Canada’s requirements, which include the use of double hull tankers (a type of hull where the vessel’s bottom and sides have two complete layers of watertight hull surfaces).

Photo credit: Desgagnés
Photo credit: Desgagnés

Foreign tankers transporting crude oil in Canadian waters must meet this requirement as well. Ship owners must also comply with their clients’ rules and those of the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation, including:

  • a tanker inspection program every 6 months (12 elements covering 750 validation criteria)
  • a verification process (vetting) before travelling that covers:
    • Ship and fleet inspection results
    • Past accident and incident history
    • Crew’s qualifications and experience
    • Authorities’ inspection reports
  • A ship’s structural review program

Ship owners transporting oil must also:

  • have an emergency response plan in case of oil pollution
  • have environmental response equipment
  • sign agreements with response organizations certified by Transport Canada
  • implement a safety management and pollution prevention system according to the International Safety Management Code (ISM CODE) – a maritime insurance company requirement

Navigating personnel for tankers

  • To transport oil by ship, Transport Canada requires officers to have specific qualifications on their certificate of competency (petroleum product transportation)
  • Oil companies apply additional combined experience criteria for senior officers (time with the company, rank and type of vessel).

Liability and compensation for oil spills

Canada’s oil pollution liability and compensation program is based on the “polluter pays” principle and is set out in the Marine Liability Act. This Act implements several international conventions which require ship owners to hold insurance in an amount that is linked to the vessel’s tonnage. These international conventions also limit or cap ship owners’ liability and specify the amounts that must be made available for clean-up, compensation and damage to natural resources. If the cost of damages exceeds a ship owner’s liability, international and domestic funds provide additional amounts.

Moreover, Canada goes even further, having created its own Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund (SOPF), a national fund that acts as a fourth level of funding, adding an additional amount of up to $160 million per incident. Canada is currently working on legislative changes in order to implement unlimited compensation in case of oil spill. This makes the total approximately $1.36 billion for the oil pollution liability and compensation program in Canada.

World-class tanker safety system

Although Canadian legislation governing oil transport by ship is internationally renowned as being one of the world’s most complete and safest, on March 18, 2013, the federal government announced its intention to create a ‘’World-Class Tanker Safety System.’’ This initiative includes legislative changes and the following measures:

  • 100% of foreign tankers will be inspected
  • new and modified navigation aids including buoys, lights and other devices to warn of obstructions and to mark the location of preferred shipping routes
  • establishment of a Canadian Coast Guard Incident Command System
  • review of existing pilotage and tug escort requirements
  • unlimited compensation in case of a spill
  • scientific research on non-conventional petroleum products, such as diluted bitumen, to enhance understanding of these substances and how they behave when released in a marine environment
  • Expansion of the National Aerial Surveillance Program
  • increase in the number of ports designated for traffic control measures, starting with Kitimat, BC.

Learn more about tanker safety and spill prevention