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Vancouver port launches pilot to reduce commercial ships anchoring in Gulf Islands at night.

A pilot project aims to reduce the number of commercial ships anchoring in the Southern Gulf Islands following years of concern from residents about an increase in freighters because of congestion at Vancouver’s port.

Starting Saturday, commercial ship operators anchoring around the Southern Gulf Islands will be asked to avoid nighttime arrivals or departures, according to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.

However, a group that represents the residents doubts this voluntary procedure will stop the ship operators from dropping their noisy anchors during the night.

“When they drop a complete anchor chain at three o’clock in the morning, it’s so loud it absolutely makes you jump out of bed,” said Peter Holmes, president of the Cowichan Bay Ship Watchers Society, on Wednesday.

Holmes said before 2009 there were no commercial vessels anchoring in the narrow passages of the Gulf Islands but now there are 33 anchorages — a number the port has confirmed.

And, he said they don’t stay for a reasonable amount of time, with one parked a record 84 days. Many stays for a month or more at a time.

Under the port authority’s new arrival and departure window, ship operators will be asked to prioritize arriving at or departing from anchorages off the Southern Gulf Islands between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., to help reduce noise disruptions from ships lowering their anchors in the area at night.

The measure will be trialled for six months and will be assessed before any decision to make it permanent, the port said.

Holmes, who has been pushing Transport Canada to stop commercial freighters from anchoring in the Gulf Island for 14 years, said while he is pleased that politicians are starting to take notice of this problem, this move by the port won’t do much to solve the issue.

“This won’t stop the sound of the generators, which is constant,” he said, adding that in some locations the noise has been recorded at 70 decibels, much higher than the health limit of 45. Holmes is also concerned about the environmental impact from these ships.

The group says the waters of the Gulf Islands and Cowichan Bay are sensitive ecosystems and these ships cause pollution and underwater noise that disrupts marine animal communication.

Under international navigation laws, ships are allowed to anchor in locations outside the Vancouver port “for a reasonable period of time,” including around the Southern Gulf Islands, according to the port, which didn’t say how many days is considered reasonable.

While the port can’t stop the vessels, Holmes argues that Transport Canada could put an end to the practice immediately.

The port argues anchorages provide safe refuge from inclement weather, but Holmes said they just need a better communication system, so they don’t have so many ships waiting to get into the port.

He added that “inclement weather” is not a good excuse when 33 anchorages are being used almost full time.

This “is inefficiency beyond the use of safe anchorage,” he said.

“This uncontrolled and environmentally abusive practice, highlights the poor management and planning by Transport Canada and (the port) in not designing an efficient scheduling system.”

Based on 2022 numbers, the port estimates that more than 75 nighttime ship arrivals and departures at Southern Gulf Islands anchorages will be avoided over the course of the trial period.

Other plans include launching a study into using an alternative mooring system for waiting ships to increase anchorage capacity at the Port of Vancouver and designing a centralized scheduling system to better sequence commercial ship traffic calling at the port.

Credit: by: Tiffany Crawford

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