Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bye Bye Love

Development Way

Vancouver residents with a view of the harbour were treated to a strange sight this April when the heavy lift vessel  "Development Way" headed out with a load of scrap vessels strapped across its deck.  The cargo included two self-loading/unloading log barges the "Straits Logger" and the "Haida Brave" and 8 tug boats.   All part of a spring cleaning project for Seaspan as it gets its dockyards in shape to make room for the big shipbuilding work set to begin for the federal government.

What it really signifies is the end of an era and, one that few of Vancouver's citizens give much thought to these days.   These massive barges, built in the 1960's & 70's, were used to transport millions of logs, harvested by various logging camps up and down the coast, and to deposit them outside the sawmills and pulp mills where they were then processed.  Thousands of people were employed in a multitude of direct and indirect jobs related to the forest industry, and it formed the backbone of the British Columbia economy.

Straits Logger

Now of course the forests are almost all gone, as are the logging camps, sawmills, and everything that goes with it, and the workhorse boats of the west coast are heading for China to be put to other uses, or dumped into an industrial version of the glue factory. Such is the nature of change.  Still it's hard to believe that such a dominant industry of the Province has practically disappeared in such a short time.

Haida Brave
Another group of ships that followed the same route to China, after Seaspan picked them up for their scrap value, were of course the infamous fleet of fast cat ferries.  Built at great expense, without thinking things through, they had an even shorter life span than the forestry vessels, and the fallout set our local shipbuilding industry back quite a few years.  More than a few hearts were broken when these boats were loaded up on another heavy lift ship "Dockwise" and sent to the glue factory. 


But it hasn't only been one way traffic for these heavy lift ships.  In return for all the scrap going to China, other heavy lift vessels like the Zhen Hua have been steadily delivering Chinese built gantry cranes to handle the ever increasing business of loading and unloading container ships.  Container ships that are carrying predominantly Chinese made goods.  This is the new economy for Vancouver, a transshipment port where containers to and from Asia get off-loaded to and from railways and trucks that transport them throughout North America. 

Zhen Hua
It's a business that serves some cities very well, most notably Singapore, the busiest transshipment port in the world.  Of course we have a long way to go when you compare the 400,000 annual transshipping TEU's going in and out of Vancouver with the 17.5 million going in and out of Singapore.  Vancouver's total container movement is only 2.5 million TEU's annually so we have lots of room to grow if we ever want to become a true world class shipping port and quit kidding ourselves about where we stand in comparison to everyone else.

Exxon Mobil refinery in Singapore
In fact we could learn a lot from Singapore with its population of only 5 million people living on less than 300 square miles of land, but still manages to be the; 5th largest financial centre in the world, 5th busiest port in the world, 2nd biggest gambling casino market, 3rd largest oil refining centre in the world, and boasts the world's 3rd highest GDP (PPP) per capita.  In terms of oil refining alone, compare just one of Singapore's refineries with a daily capacity of 605,000 barrels with the refinery in Burnaby which has a capacity of only 52,000 barrels per day.

Burnaby Chevron refinery
Lately there's been a lot of talk about the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline into Vancouver to move more Alberta oil to the Far East.  It's just the latest example of Canada being nothing more than a "hewer of wood and drawer of water" without any regard for the environment.  Worse, without any refinery process along the way, there is no long term benefit to B.C. because there is no metering charge we can levy on the oil itself.  All we get is the one time construction jobs to build the pipeline.

Kinder Morgan pipeline
It's so typical of our approach to resource management in this country; mine it, log it, fish it, pump it, whatever it, until "it" all runs out.  If we thought like Singapore we might at least get some jobs out of the deal. Perhaps oil transport will be the new indirect industry of this province and, instead of log barges, we will be looking at oil tankers going through our harbour.  If this is the case, then we should at least build a massive refinery complex and process the oil before shipping it out. Singapore has found a clean and profitable way to make this work so what's wrong with us?

Oil Tanker
Regardless of whether it's raw tar sands oil, or refined petroleum products, being loaded onto oil tanker ships, or an endless parade of container ships, we aren't talking about logs anymore.  Those days are over. As the ships try their best to navigate our treacherous coastline it's, bye bye love to the old forestry gals and hello loneliness, I think I'm going to cry.

photo by Arlen Redekop