The federal government’s recent approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline requires the company to meet 209 tough conditions.
Some of those conditions specify marine and tanker safety requirements, including provisions for both oil spill recovery and, more critically, oil spill prevention. As someone who frequently kayaks along our beautiful mid-coast, I’m well aware of the need to ensure we protect this unique region.
That’s why I’ve spent much of my life designing vessels focused on oil spill prevention.
These vessels, called escort tugs, are large and powerful, providing emergency steering capability in the unlikely event of a tanker rudder failure. Escort tugs will also act as a very powerful handbrake in case a tanker’s propulsion system fails.
It’s important to note that tanker safety has improved dramatically since the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
Modern-day tankers are some of the safest ships ever built. All single-hulled tankers (such as Exxon Valdez) have been mandated out of service since 2010. Double-hulled tankers are now the norm and that means in the unlikely event of a grounding, it’s much more difficult to breach an inner cargo tank and cause a spill.
Tankers can, however, occasionally have mechanical problems with propulsion or steering systems. If that failure in a near-coastal environment, there must be systems in place to ensure the tanker does not go aground.
That’s where the high-performance escort tug comes in. They are large and immensely more powerful.
An escort tug typically operates tethered to the tanker and is immediately available to exert very high steering or braking forces as required.
Fifty metres long and with more than 10,000 horsepower, they can generate corrective steering and braking forces up to 200 tonnes at 10 knots.
These tugs are also designed to perform rescue towing.
Two tugs will escort every laden tanker en route from Kitimat, B.C. Empty tankers will have one free-running escort. No less important to the huge safety margin provided by using escort tugs is the extra number of trained eyes and ears available within the escort system to detect a potential incident.
The use of innovative, high-performance escort tugs as part of an extensive tanker escort system will provide as close to a zero-risk operation as is possible.