Proposed piloting station criticized
Local leaders lobby against changes in Placentia Bay
Master seamen commonly navigate unfamiliar waters, but arriving at ports with an unfamiliar coastline can be dangerous for the captain and crew.
To avoid the extra risks, many ports have trained pilots to assist in maneuvering incoming vessels through harbours. These pilots drive separate boats from shore to a designated area called a boarding station. From there, they board the incoming vessel and safely guide it to port.
Pilots have to navigate some of the most difficult waters imaginable, and that is no different for those that work in Placentia Bay.
A boarding station is located 28 miles from port, which is where these pilots will take over driving the ships.
The nine pilots that work out of the region operate all sorts of vessels, including large oil tankers. Each is well versed in the geography of each individual harbour, especially near Come by Chance, where the heaviest traffic enters.
The Atlantic Pilotage Authority (APA) has requested a Pilotage Risk Management Methodology (PRMM) from a third party to see if another station roughly 16 miles offshore would also be suitable.
This proposal has drawn criticism from some municipal and federal leaders, and the Canadian Marine Pilots’ Association (CMPA). Response to proposals After the APA suggested the assessment, the CMPA rapidly responded that an oil spill would be much greater.
“(Findings from a previous study indicated) ‘the risk of spills is highest in eastern Canada, particularly Newfoundland, [and] Placentia Bay is considered by many to be the most likely place in Canada for a major spill,’” the submission said.
For larger ships, Simon Pelletier, president of the CMPA, believes there is a much higher risk of an oil or fuel spill inside the 28-mile boundary.
“Big tankers, even if they’re (empty) carry an incredible amount of fuel,” he explained.
APA CEO Tony McGuinness, a former ship captain himself, said the proposal is still in its early stages, and no decisions have been made, “whatsoever.”
“No ships carrying cargo would go in to the inner boarding station,” McGuinness said. “We are not jeopardizing safety. We are proposing an inner boarding station that used to be in Placentia, but much further out.”
McGuinness added that the APA is there to ensure safety, which is why a risk assessment will take place.
Liberal MP for the Avalon Scott Andrews spoke with The Compass Oct. 22 about his views on the proposal.
“Placentia Bay is the busiest seaway in Canada, with the highest tonnage of vessel traffic. It’s not about if a spill will occur, it’s about when.”
If a spill occurs, Andrews believes it would be “catastrophic” to not only Placentia Bay, but also St. Mary’s Bay and the Grand Banks.
Local pilots also know where fishermen cast their nets and how to handle the constant changing weather conditions, he said.
Giving an example of a real life situation, a fishermen had his nets cast within the 28 mile limit when a tanker was approaching. Andrews said he thought he would have to cut his lines so they didn’t get hit by the tanker. But the pilot, who was a local and knew the fisherman, was able to maneuver past him, missing his gear and saving him thousands of dollars in replacement costs.
“If this was a foreign pilot, not knowing the fishermen, not knowing the area, not understanding the dialect, he would have had to cut his gear,” he explained. Not a new thing Bill Hogan, a former mayor and MHA for Placentia, has been concerned about this issue for years.
“We’ve been fighting for a safety management plan for eons, decades,” he boomed. “Placentia Bay is the most at risk in eastern Canada for an oil spill.
“It will be like trying to put a gallon of water in a cup. Every nook and cranny on every coast will be covered. If it happens in Placentia Bay, it’ll never be cleaned up.”
Hogan believes the review of the proposal will likely get approved because it “can work, but is too great a risk.”
“They should be decreasing the risk, not maximizing it,” he said.
Pelletier, Andrews and Hogan all believe another boarding station can work, but it would have to be move further south, away from the current location, and not closer to shore.
“If I could see a boarding station further out, if that is the mandate of the authority, (I could support it),” Pelletier explained. “I don’t understand the rationale (of this change).”
This sign designates the parking area on the Arnold’s Cove wharf for the nine pilots with the Atlanic Pilotage Authority. The three ships are tied up behind it.