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.

Fed­eral is­sue

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).”

Photo by Melissa Jenk­ins/The Com­pass

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.

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