Disaster Waiting to Happen
Salish Sea in focus ⬿

Disaster Waiting to Happen

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November 18, 2012

In the interest of full disclosure, prior to my transition to Bay Area citizen, I was an environmental activist in the Salish Sea–an area that includes the San Juan Islands, midway between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. One of our accomplishments in the 1980s and 90s was to prevent the development of a major bulk shipping terminal at Cherry Point, which is in the middle of Washington state’s most prolific crab fishing grounds. As noted on Mother Earth Journal, this area is also important to the Lummi Indians.

During the salmon war between Salish Sea tribes and the State of Washington in the mid-1970s, I worked there as an Alaska Fishermen’s Union cannery tender vessel captain.  This area is located in the center of the upper right map insert showing the shipping lanes leading from Cherry Point to the Pacific Ocean. The NOAA chart for Boundary Pass (the route to Cherry Point between the Canadian Gulf Islands and the American  San Juan Islands), provides a detailed description of hazards and aids to navigation.

Perhaps of interest to historians, in 1977, environmentalists working with then U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson of Washington, made supertankers off-limits to this area, requiring the permissible smaller oil tankers to have double hulls and tug escorts. Now, thirty-five years later, the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, which predicts 487 bulk carrier vessels per year, could circumvent those protections.

As Matt Krogh reported in the February 22, 2012 issue of Cascadia Weekly, these bulk carriers have the “worst safety record of any commercial vessels on the high seas.” To make matters worse, the bulk carriers — double the size of the oil tankers now allowed in the Salish Sea — are a mix of single and double hull, and exempt from requirements for tug escorts. Carrying 2 million gallons of bunker fuel each, these bulkers are a disaster waiting to happen. Even if they avoid grounding or collision, the loading and ballasting spells doom for the ecosystem of the Salish Sea.

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