Transport Canada boosts BC tug inspections in wake of TSB criticism


Criticism by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has helped prompt another federal agency, Transport Canada (TC), to step up inspections of tugboats and barges on the coast of British Columbia.

Transport Canada is the agency responsible for enforcing transportation regulations while the Transportation Safety Board is charged with the investigation of transportation accidents.

The TSB has been critical of a lack of TC oversight for certain vessel classes. The most recent comment from the TSB appeared in a May 10 report on the grounding of two barges on southern Vancouver Island on March 2, 2016.

“Tug and barge operations are currently not required to operate under safety management systems despite the fact that the combined size and tonnage of the vessels may be similar to that of a conventional cargo-carrying vessel,” the TSB said in its investigation report. “The risks associated with such an operation can be greater given the complexities of connecting and operating the tug-barge combinations.”

In the report on the grounding of the barges Blue Horizon and Tacoma, the TSB wrote that neither WorkSafeBC nor Transport Canada “has an inspection program in place to routinely check that owners and operators of tugs less than 15 gross tons are complying with safety-critical regulations.” The 39-foot tug H.M. Scout towing the barges is registered at 13.9 tons.

In its report on the sinking of the 14.5-ton tug Syringa off Sechelt, British Columbia, on March 18, 2015, the TSB wrote that “although TC has jurisdiction to conduct random inspections of tugs less than 15 GT, these inspections normally only take place after an occurrence/incident.”

The report also stated that effective oversight by Transport Canada is required to ensure that vessel owners and operators, including those of tugs less than 15 gross tons, comply with safety-critical regulations.

TSB Chairwoman Kathleen Fox said in an October news release that Transport Canada’s slow progress addressing previous TSB recommendations affects all aspects of the transportation network, with potentially adverse outcomes. “There are currently 52 TSB recommendations that have been outstanding for 10 years or more. Over three dozen of those have been outstanding for more than 20 years,” she said. “There is no reasonable excuse for taking that long — especially in cases where TC agrees that action is needed.”

In a lengthy email to Professional Mariner, TC spokeswoman Natasha Gauthier wrote that Transport Canada conducted a concentrated inspection campaign for tugs and barges between Jan. 19 and March 31 of this year. The inspections focused on areas of concern and risk based on incidents during the past few years, as well as TSB reports and recommendations, Gauthier said.

“During the campaign, 61 vessels owned by 19 operators operating at the mouth of the Fraser River and along the central and northern coasts of BC were inspected,” she wrote. “We partnered with the Vancouver Police Department, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and the Canadian Coast Guard, focusing on tugs as they engaged in towing operations. The emphasis was on vessel seaworthiness and items of regulatory compliance such as crew certification, lifesaving and navigational and firefighting equipment.”

By Professional Mariner Staff