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Master Mariner responds to Comox Captain’s Enbridge pipeline critique

George A. Adams is a Master Mariner from West Vancouver. He wrote to the Vancouver Observer in response to a letter published on the website in April, regarding Captain Mal Walsh’s professional opinions on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker route to Kitimat, BC.

Like Walsh (who is a Master Mariner from Comox, BC), Adams has over 40 years of experience in the marine transport industry, both seagoing and in management and directorship positions. His seagoing experience includes work with Shell Tankers Limited, and he later became President of the Canadian Transport Company and VP of Transport with MacMillan Bloedel. Adams has also served as director and chairman of the Vancouver Port Authority.

The following letter has been published with his permission.


My attention has been drawn to the article entitled “Marine and oil expert's alarming critique of proposed Enbridge pipeline” in your April 23rd publication, and especially to the defeatist attitude displayed by this former mariner. I have no idea where Captain Walsh gained his seagoing experience, but he displays some lack of knowledge of many details of ship operating in general and on this subject in particular.

Incidents involving oil tankers are very well documented and the causes investigated thoroughly, the object being to avoid repetition. Based on the findings of such enquiries regulatory changes, often extensive, may be introduced. The declining incidence of such accidents, despite the increased volume of oil movements and the progressive use of larger ships, is testament to the effectiveness of the process.

One such advance has been the introduction of double-hulled tankers, which Captain Walsh dismisses as a “falsehood” and warns his readers not to be “misled”. Unfortunately, he has provided no explanation of this conclusion.  Frankly, there can be neither reason nor logic behind this bold and dismissive statement.

He states that access to the port of Kitimat is through “open hostile waters” via “navigationally difficult and narrow channels”. Again, I do not know where he gained his seagoing experience, but Captain Walsh must be aware that these deep and wide waters are no more dangerous than other passages through which ships navigate constantly.  Weather is a constant concern for any seafarer, and that experienced on the west coast of BC is no worse than the gales, hurricanes and typhoons—as well as fog, ice and rain—experienced elsewhere. The approaches to Kitimat are not unsafe. 

Captain Walsh makes passing recognition of the fact that marine pilots (with extensive local knowledge and an enviable safety record) will be employed on the vessels. He then continues to suggest that their advisory capacity diminishes their role. In my career, I experienced very few occasions where a Master overruled or dismissed a pilot, and never in BC waters. On each of those few occasions the reason for dismissing the pilot was either competence or sickness. 

The knowledge, competence and ability of our local marine pilots is beyond question, and the risk of possible sickness affecting the performance of an individual pilot is covered by the presence of the second pilot. There were no compulsory pilots to assist in navigation on board the Torrey Canyon, Amoco Cadiz or the Exxon Valdez.

The provision of two escort tugs is recognised by Captain Walsh, who guesses that the tugs will not be tethered. Surely someone who professes to be an expert in the field would do better to verify the facts rather than guessing. Our coastal towboat industry is recognised as a world leader in its field. Also, we have in Vancouver one of the globe’s foremost authorities on escort tugs, a naval architect whose knowledge and expertise are sought globally by operators and authorities.

Captain Walsh also introduced the proposal that ballast water discharged from the ships will poison the waters around Kitimat. It seems that much has changed since Captain Walsh gained his seagoing experience, since apparently he is unaware of ballast exchange regulations and other controls introduced to eliminate the risks associated with contamination of marine species.

Rather than dismiss the concept of moving oil from Kitimat by tanker as being unsafe, Captain Walsh’s contribution to the debate would have been better served by highlighting the risks involved as well as the means and extent of mitigating them. This is what one would hope and expect from an experienced mariner.

Respectfully submitted,

George A. Adams, Master Mariner

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