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Concerning the article published in Le Devoir on November 4, 2015, some clarification is necessary on oil spills involving tankers navigating the St. Lawrence River. The MIB would like to point out that:

Oil spills from tankers are rare in Canada. Since the 1989 grounding of the Exxon Valdez, in Alaska, Canada has taken numerous measures to heighten tanker security, a fact the article fails to mention. These measures prevent spills and make shipping one of the safest, most environment-friendly means of transporting oil. Shipping by tankers is subject to regulations and a very strict, rigorous inspection regime.

The following is a summary of the main tanker security measures:

1. Transports Canada requirements:

  • Mandatory use of double hull tankers
    • Double coque_Desgagnés
      Double hull tanker
      Photo credit: Desgagnés

      Segregates tanks carrying petroleum products. The vessel’s bottom and sides have two complete layers of watertight hulls, thereby reducing the risk of spills in case of damage to the outer shell.

  • 2 pilots, depending on vessel size and season
  • Port State Control (PSC) program
    • A ship inspection program whereby foreign vessels entering Canadian waters are boarded and inspected to ensure compliance with various major international maritime conventions.

2. Oil companies go further than the regulations in effect and have set up carrier inspection programs:

  • 6-month, 750-point oil tanker inspection program
  • Verification process (vetting) before travelling
  • Ship’s structural review program (the tanker must be maintained in structural condition equivalent to a 15-year-old vessel)

3. Ship owners transporting oil must:

  • Have an emergency response plan in case of oil pollution
  • Have environmental response equipment
  • Sign agreements with response organizations certified by Transport Canada

4. 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)

The MIB also points out that Canada has taken steps to improve tanker safety, including announcing its intention, in March 2013, to create a “World Class Tanker Safety System”, an initiative that includes legislative changes. For more information on this safety system, click here.

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