Canada updates, consolidates marine regulations to improve safety

Leviathan II capsized off British Columbia
Leviathan II capsized off British Columbia
Leviathan II capsized off British Columbia in October 2015, killing six people. The whale-watch boat did not have an EPIRB on board and was not required to carry one. After the accident, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada urged Transport Canada to require the devices on all commercial vessels operating in open water.

Canada has significantly revised its maritime safety regulations, strengthening emergency notification and situational awareness requirements for more than 23,000 commercial vessels of all types and sizes.

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau announced the revisions, published as “Marine Navigation Safety Regulations 2020,” on Oct. 28. In addition to search and rescue modifications, the changes aim to help mariners prevent collisions and groundings, which account for 60 percent of all reported shipping accidents, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB).

The new publication cites the Leviathan II disaster in October 2015 as a driving force behind the safety updates. The whale-watch boat capsized during an excursion on British Columbia’s Clayoquot Sound, killing six people. Emergency response was delayed because the crew was unable to issue a distress call until a flare was fired 40 minutes after the incident, and a communication error slowed efforts to determine the vessel’s location.

The regulatory text notes that between 2008 and 2018, there was an average of 16 fatalities and 50 serious injuries per year on commercial vessels in Canadian waters. While the overall trend has been improving recently, 2018 was “a particularly tragic year” with 20 fatalities.

The new publication establishes changes within four broad categories:

• Distress alerting equipment — There are new mandates for two-way radiocommunications gear and EPIRBs, including the types of vessels required to carry the equipment. These requirements take effect immediately.

• Situational awareness measures — New categories of vessels are required to have a Class A automatic identification system (AIS) to provide enhanced search and rescue information. The compliance deadline is April 2021.

• Bridge navigational watch alarm systems (BNWAS) — More vessels will be required to have these systems, which detect if the officer on watch is absent or incapacitated, then sound an alert. The compliance deadline is January 2022.

• Electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS) — Some Canadian passenger vessels will face new requirements to carry ECDIS, which can be used as an alternative to paper charts by integrating information from GPS and radar. The compliance deadline is October 2021.

Another impetus for reform was streamlining and clarification. The new publication consolidates nine older regulations to better align with the Canada Shipping Act 2001. It also incorporates Chapter IV (radiocommunications) and Chapter V (navigation safety) of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). This will allow Canada “to meet its international commitments, support harmonization efforts with other jurisdictions and create a clearer and simpler set of regulatory requirements while at the same time improving safety.”

For the most part, maritime businesses seem to be on board with the new regulations. Transport Canada received comments from just four stakeholders after draft text was published in 2019.

One reason for the limited response may be that discussion about these changes started in 2007. Another reason is that newer vessels already have the required technology, which will limit expenditures. To add AIS, for example, Transport Canada estimates the cost at $24,212 for large vessels (over 20 meters or 65.6 feet) and $4,302 for small vessels.

Robert Turner, vice president of operations for the Chamber of Marine Commerce, said the Ottawa-based group supports the new regulatory alignment with the SOLAS Convention and the Canada Shipping Act 2001.

“Consolidating the numerous navigation and radiocommunications regulations into one comprehensive regulation is also helpful,” he said.

Regarding costs, particularly for AIS, Turner said chamber members had no concerns “since their ships have been fitted with (it) for many years.”

By Professional Mariner Staff