Anchorages in British Columbia FAQs

Ports in British Columbia are a gateway to trade globally and especially with Asia. Canadian businesses, producers, and exporters and importers rely upon marine transportation to get their goods to and from global markets safely. The efficiency of Canada’s supply chain, including its waterways, can be Canada’s competitive advantage. While waiting for loading operations, ships will proceed to anchor in coastal waters. The following FAQs are provided as information.

Why do ships at anchor have such bright lights at night?

The Collision Regulations under the Canada Shipping Act require that a vessel greater than 100 metres in length shall use all available working lights to illuminate her decks. This requirement ensures that a ship at anchor is not mistaken as a ship underway, and it therefore should be avoided by other vessels. Efforts are being made by operators to adjust working lights such that they do not negatively impact nearby communities and wildlife.

What value do ships at anchor have in supporting Canadian trade?

Ships at anchor in Canada are contracted to move cargo that benefit Canadian businesses. Commercial shipping results in $30 billion of economic activity annually in Canada and moves more than $200 billion worth of goods to and from global markets. The marine transportation sector is vital to supporting Canadian trade, and Canada’s continued prosperity and high standard of living depends on our ability to deliver resources, goods, and people in a responsible and competitive manner.

Why are ships parking for free in the Southern Gulf Islands?

It is correct that ships are not paying a direct fee for anchoring in the Southern Gulf Islands and other locations outside of recognized Port Authorities. However, international ships calling at ports in Canada are required to pay marine navigation service fees, which are designed to recover some of the costs of providing aids to navigation and marine communications and traffic services to commercial ships. Many of the anchorages in the Southern Gulf Islands are far from terminals where the ships load. This significant distance adds additional costs and logistical challenges, which is not ideal for efficient operations.

Why are ships at anchor allowed to dump ballast water containing invasive species?

Due to the significant ecological threat posed by invasive species, the International Maritime Organization developed the International Ballast Water Management Convention. The details of this Convention are adopted in Canada’s Ballast Water Control and Management Regulations, which are expected to be revised in 2021. All international ships must manage ballast water in accordance with these regulations and Transport Canada monitors compliance through its Port State Control Regime.

The Port of Newcastle, Australia manages the arrival of ships so that ships avoid anchoring. Why isn’t Canada taking this approach?

The Port of Newcastle’s predominant export is coal, and its source mines are relatively close to the Port. The Port of Newcastle does not have safe anchorages near the port and subsequently controls the arrival of ships. It should be noted that this also results in many ships “loitering” just outside the port and creates coastal congestion.

In comparison, the ports of Prince Rupert and Vancouver have a very diversified portfolio of export commodities, including grains, forest products, basic metals, fertilizers, chemicals, coal, and petroleum products. Many of these export commodities are sourced thousands of kilometers from coastal ports,  carried by multiple forms of transportation, and subject to adverse weather conditions. The coordination of the arrival of these commodities to coastal ports and the arrival of ships is exponentially more challenging than the Australian model. A recent effort by Transport Canada, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, and the Prince Rupert Port Authority seeks greater efficiencies through data collection and transparency that may lead to increases in competitiveness for Canadian exports and possibly less days at anchor for ships waiting to load. Please see more information on the West Coast Supply Chain Visibility Program here.

While the Australian model may not be the perfect or right solution for Canada, the Chamber of Shipping continues to advocate to the Federal Government and ports for improvements to better manage vessel anchorages that would reduce impacts while increasing Canada’s competitive advantage.

All of these tankers at anchor must be a risk to our sensitive coastal ecosystems. Right?

The vast majority of ships that anchor in the coastal waters of British Columbia are bulk carriers and are designed to carry dry bulk materials such as agriculture and mining products. While their overall shape may be similar to a product tanker or chemical carrier, they do not have the unique piping systems on their decks that are normal in a ship designed to carry liquid bulk cargos. 

Ships transiting coastal waters have a British Columbia Coast Pilot onboard. They are navigational experts with additional and specialized training in handling all sizes of ships.


Why are there not more container ships at anchor?

Unlike many other commodity trades, container ships operate more like airlines with a predictable schedule to similar ports. If certain containerized cargo is not available for export due to supply chain factors, the ship simply continues loading operations of other containers. Container terminals require an adequate amount of storage area to  manage containers for different shipping companies. This is a complex operation. 

Why does the Chamber of Shipping want Transport Canada to designate more anchorages?

If Transport Canada were to designate additional anchorages and implement a corresponding management and monitoring plan, the impacts from ships in certain areas could be reduced. An appropriate management plan would properly allocate anchorages, reduce impacts, and strive for increased competitiveness in services. It could also be a contributor to reducing Greenhouse Gases, as vessel movements to and from loading terminals are a significant proportion of overall vessel movements in British Columbia.

Why doesn't the Government of Canada eliminate anchorages to support the protection of Southern Resident Killer Whales?

The Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) is an endangered species and protected under the Species at Risk Act. Acoustic disturbance from shipping has been identified as an anthropogenic threat that aggravates the ability of this whale species to communicate, locate, and catch prey. Through the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program, the marine industry, scientific community, stakeholders, and Federal Government have identified that reducing the speed of transiting ships is the most effective approach to reducing acoustic disturbance. In 2020, ships were asked to reduce speed in the vicinity of Swiftsure Bank, Haro Strait, and Boundary Pass. These waterways are known areas where SRKW forage. 

Eliminating ship anchorages would not only have significant economic impacts, but it would likely result in more ships transiting coastal waters while waiting for a loading terminal, and increased acoustic disturbance. 

For more information on measures to protect SRKW, please visit here.

Ship anchorages in BC
Pilotage assignments in 2019