Container ship runs aground off Steveston

A container vessel ran aground in waters near Steveston Saturday, escaping damage but prompting

questions about the safety of tankers in the Fraser River.

Cap Blanche, a cargo ship destined for Fraser Surrey Docks, became hung up in an area known as Steveston Bend around 10 p.m. in dense fog.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada deployed a team of investigators to the accident site. Senior investigator Paulo Ekkebus said the crew was able to power the vessel off the high ground after about 30 minutes.

A river pilot—required by cargo ships to navigate the Fraser—was on board the vessel at the time, according to Ekkebus. He noted the board gets reports of 3,200 occurrences in the transportation sector in Canada each year, but not all are investigated.

"We evaluate every occurrence to see if we can find things that would advance transportation safety," he said.

No damage was reported in this case, but Coun. Harold Steves wondered if the accident could have been worse had the vessel been a bulk carrier.

"Imagine if it was jet fuel, or coal," he said on Twitter Monday.

Last month the province issued an environmental assessment certificate to the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation for a project to ship jet fuel up-river to Riverport, where it will be offloaded and transported to the airport via pipeline.

Port Metro Vancouver is also mulling a plan to allow barges in the Fraser River to ship coal from Fraser Surrey Docks past Richmond to Texada Island.

Otto Langer, co-chair of the citizens' group Vancouver Airport Project Opposition for Richmond, or VAPOR, said studies required by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office noted the Steveston Bend area is hazardous.

"I suppose this grounding proves that," he said. "Right now we're at a point where we don't have that much shipping traffic, especially tankers of hazardous materials."

By adding larger jet fuel tankers and coal barges into local waterways, "the safety problem could be heightened greatly," Langer noted.

"With all the high technology we have, it comes down to equipment and humans. You'll have equipment failures and you'll always have human failures."

According to the project's final assessment report, Steveston Bend is one of three likely spill locations "due to the higher complexity of navigation." It also noted the location's proximity to the George Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

VAPOR is hosting a fundraising dinner at Steveston Seafood House Feb. 2 to raise money for its anticipated legal challenge of the province's Dec. 12, 2013 decision to grant the project environmental approval. Langer said the environmental review lasted 1,000 days and offered no public hearing. He also said some studies were completed after the public comment period ended.

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