Sunday, October 19, 2014

Rescue Tugs called for (again)

Calls have resumed again for rescue tugs off Canada's coasts. The on again and off again topic becomes hot when there is a near miss or accident then cools when there is no bad news of ships in distress. Once again we are reminded that the Canadian Coast Guard is unprepared to tow even a small ship (and to be fair they are not tasked, equipped or trained for this work.)

To rehash my several previous posts on this topic, Canada Needs Emergency Towing Vessels. Granted we do not have the traffic of the North Sea or English Channel which can justify a full time fleet of emergency tugs standing by for potential disasters. Even the British could not justify the cost of their part-time Coast Guard fleet and have largely abolished it in areas where the French or commercial tugs are reasonably available.

Canada however has no one else to fall back on, except maybe the US, which is what happened this weekend on the Pacific coast. The Russian 6,540 grt cargo ship Simushir, carrying containers of solvents and mining equipment, lost power off Haida Gwai and drifted perilously close to the pristine (and protected) shore line. CCGS Gordon Reid managed to tow the ship farther off the coast, but its lines parted three times before the US flag tug Barbara Foss could reach the scene. The ship is now under tow for Prince Rupert.
The ship was bound from Washington State to Russia when its fuel heater failed and it lost power. The ship's master had to be air evac'd due to injuries, and it had ten crew left on board.The nearest suitable tug was a day's sailing time away (and that is close compared to some stretches of our shoreline)

Here are the issues: Our Coast Guard is really nothing of the sort. It is a Search and Rescue operation, a maintainer of navigation aids and an icebreaking operation. It is now being equipped with patrol boats to carry RCMP and Canadian Border Services for near shore work only, but in terms of guarding our coasts from any serious security threats, only an armed force such as the navy can really do that.
It is unequipped (and untrained) to tow ships in distress, and thus certainly can't guard our coasts from environmental disasters. It can rescue people, and does that well, and so does the navy, but it can't tow ships, and will not even attempt to do so except in extreme circumstances.

Here is what must happen:
The Coast Guard's mandate must change - it must be charged with managing Emergency Towing operations. The British model, wherein chartered ETVs were free to do commercial work from time to time would seem to be a reasonable one to me, but they must be under the direction of the CCG, so that ETVs are on station within reasonable sailing times form strategic spots.
Alternatively the new breed of CCG ships must be built as ETVs, but also can be tasked with rescue, patrol and other duties, but they must be available to tow, at least until commercial tugs arrive. The typical offshore supply/anchor handling type AHST is ideal for this type of work. It would require little modification to a standard design and is relatively inexpensive compared to the usual over-designed government ship.

I won't rant on about this, but in a few days the issue will die down and be forgotten for six months or a year when another incident occurs. Let's hope it doesn't take a serious accident to waken the powers to be to this issue.


1 comment:

  1. Do the Terry Fox and the Sir William Grenfell not have significant towing capacity?