New system will share real-time ship traffic data
Haida, Gitga'at Nations to host year-long pilots
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A new pilot project announced Tuesday as part of the federal government’s Oceans Protection Plan will ensure Indigenous communities have access to critical information about shipping traffic in their territories and help identify sensitive areas that should be avoided.
Beginning this fall, up to 10 Indigenous communities, including the Haida Nation and Gitga’at Nation on B.C.’s north coast, will run year-long pilots under the Enhanced Maritime Situation Awareness initiative – part of the federal government’s $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan.
For the Haida Nation, which had a near miss in 2014 when a Russian cargo ship carrying tonnes of fuel almost grounded on Haida Gwaii, the information system is key to understanding the shipping traffic in their territory, areas that should be protected, and the tools they need in order to respond to incidents effectively.
“There’s a lot of vessel traffic in and around Haida Gwaii right now,” said Peter Lantin, the president of the Haida Nation. “Some of this traffic is in very ecologically sensitive areas that should be avoided.”
The new system will provide data on weather, tides, currents, as well as information about protected or sensitive areas to be avoided, he said, adding that Haida Nation will be contributing important traditional knowledge.
While only a few Indigenous communities will participate in pilots, all communities will immediately have access to an initial version of the system including real-time ship traffic data, the federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau announced Tuesday in a speech to the Chamber of Shipping in Vancouver.
The information system – what Garneau called an “important new measure to protect against marine incidents” – is just a first step.
“The second step of course will be that the First Nations will be involved in the response side of things because very often they’re the first ones there anyway and they have an intimate knowledge of the local waters,” he said.
In Haida Gwaii, Lantin said he believes the Haida Nation requires both an emergency response centre and a rescue tug to ensure the community is able to respond effectively to emergencies.
Communities on B.C.’s southern coast, where there is considerable concern about the increase in tanker traffic related to the federally-approved expansion of the 1,100-km Trans Mountain pipeline, will also be participating in the pilot project and Garneau said those announcements will be made in the coming days.
During his speech, which came three days after thousands of people gathered in Burnaby to protest the pipeline, Garneau said “we believe that a strong economy and a clean environment go hand in hand. We have always taken that approach and that includes pipelines.”
The Oceans Protection Plan, he said, “provides economic opportunities for Canadians today while protecting our coastlines and clean water for generations to come.”
On Saturday, thousands of people gathered in Burnaby to protest the federally-approved pipeline expansion. Asked about the demonstrations, Garneau said his government “has taken the position that a strong economy and a clean environment go hand in hand.”