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British Columbia Anchor-dragging in Prince Rupert’s harbour alarms environmental group

A humpback whale is seen fishing in the waters of Chatham Sound near Prince Rupert, B.C., in June, 2018.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

A new report raises concerns about the alarming increase of anchor-dragging by ships at the Port of Prince Rupert, saying there’s a risk of disastrous consequences to British Columbia’s north coast.

The Anchor Safe Prince Rupert Report was released Monday by the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation.

Over the past two decades, the foundation says the number of anchor-dragging incidents has jumped from an annual average of less than one in 2000 to 11 in 2017.

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It says vessel size in the increasingly busy harbour is of particular concern because of the difficulties high winds pose to larger ships anchored in and around the port.

The report says Prince Rupert anchor incidents are about 2300 per cent higher than in the Port of Vancouver.

The foundation says the hazard needs to be addressed before approval of projects such as the proposed Vopak Pacific Canada diesel storage and export terminal on Ridley Island, just south of the city of Prince Rupert.

The Vopak terminal is expected to attract some of the largest ships to the area and also increase the total number of vessels using the harbour to more than 600 from the current 460, the foundation says in a news release.

Study authors point to a 1992 Institute of Ocean Sciences report that found ships frequently dragged anchor because in the harbour because there’s a thin layer of mud on top of smooth rock.

The coast guard and port authority both monitor anchorage. The authority says pilots will help a vessel reset its anchor if the ship begins to move, but adds that it’s always looking for ways to improve safety.

The foundation says it has asked the authority and Transport Canada to consider and implementing solutions.

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“Over the years, the number of vessels in the Rupert area has stayed a relatively steady number while the size of the vessels has increased,” the foundation says in a release. “The alarming rise in the number of incidents appears to be related to the difficulties faced in high winds by large vessels anchored in and around the Port.”

Transport Canada wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The $36-billion Pacific Northwest liquefied natural gas project was slated for construction on Lelu Island, in the Skeena estuary south of the port, but it was cancelled last year amid tumbling LNG prices and a First Nations challenge over lack of consultation.

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