The hammer drops (on Canadian cabotage)

McCleary's Spirit, loaded, in Quebec
My gut is big, and not necessarily pretty, but its usually accurate when it comes to intuition. I felt that any day now we would have work for our ship, a product tanker, or something drastic would happen. Well, as it turns out, the latter happened.

If you follow this blog, you'll recalled that the ship I sail on was recently been laid up in Montreal, with practically the entire crew laid off, because of an apparent lack of cargo. Well it turns out, there is no shortage of cargo, and certainly no shortage of a government that talks tough about protecting jobs, while actually doing the opposite.

For nearly all of July, the powers that be in the Canadian government, have allowed a foreign owned, flagged, and crewed product tanker to operate between Canadian ports, transporting cargo. Below is a letter I sent my shipmates last night, sharing the information and my thoughts...
Dear shipmates…

Going up the St Lawrence Seaway
The Canadian flagged Articulated Tug and Barge Unit (product tanker) William J Moore and McClearys Spirit remain at Section M3 of the Port of Montreal, laid up since June 18, 2012. We are fully classed and approved by Transport Canada and Lloyd’s Register; we have recently passed a Super Major – Shell - vetting inspection. For many years before today, we have carried petroleum products, jet fuel, diesel, gasoline, etc, on the waters of the St Lawrence and the Great Lakes, so what’s up? Why did our crew get laid off? Why is this tanker not working?

You might be interested to know that right now, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) is considering a “Fast Track” request by PetroNav in Montreal, to keep a Swiss flagged product tanker trading between Quebec and Montreal, and Quebec and Hamilton / Oakville, to carry Ultramar product out of Levi, near Quebec City. That’s right, you read correctly, we are laid up while a foreign owned and crewed vessel, which pay no Canadian taxes, is carrying Ultramar (Valero) product between Canadian ports.

Apparently there is dire shortage of storage space at the refinery in Levi, which is causing irreparable damage to the economy, which only a foreign ship can alleviate. Not only that, but the ship already had a waiver to operate between Canadian ports, this current request is actually an additional request to trade in Canada.  It’s current waiver, which started July 03, 2012, was to expire on the 20th, but guess what, she is currently discharging at Ultramar’s berth (106) in Montreal, and its July 24th .

KSea Canada, the owners of the vessels, through its technical managers, Vships of Montreal, have received the request for a waiver as stipulated by the CTA, (a Canadian ship owner has the right to comment on the waiver request) and had until this afternoon, 5pm, to respond with objections, if any. So far I have not heard of any.
  • You can find out more about the CTA and the waivers it grants on their website
  • Here is the first waiver granted for the MCT Stockhorn… looks like it’s the first waiver granted this year to a product tanker in Canada, so woo hoo we’re the first…. of probably many more
  • Here is the latest waiver request
Cabotage waiver request are nothing new, especially out in the Atlantic region, where the offshore industry routinely flaunts Canadians, but I think this is a pretty scary road to start travelling down allowing this to happen to simple and fundamental ship type, like a tanker. 
MCT Stockhorn from MCT website
The ship, the MV MCT Stockhorn is a foreign ship which does not pay Canadian tax, whose had 11 defiencies in less than 4 years under PSC inspections, flying a flag firmly in the Paris MoU’s Grey List… and from a one ship company…. and Valero has a problems with us carrying their cargo(!?!?!) Mega Chemical Tankers is the umbrella corporation, based in Switzerland, but appearing to be of German ownership.   

Valero, parent corporation of Ultramar, who has been applying for annual waivers of foreign tankers to operate in Canada for years, has finally gotten its way. They say we are too old, yes, I think so too, but we still meet all requirements set by regulators. If they are truly concern about age or safety, why don’t they offer a decent contract, one that would allow a Canadian ship owner to take the risk on a capital intense endeavour to build a new tanker to service them. Or even better, why don’t they build and operate their own Canadian ship. 

On the river
I find it hard to believe that a “Fast Track” application, with its short time frame (which would restrict a proper analysis and response to such a request), is  really warranted in this situation. The refinery knows how much they produce, and how much they must move, months in advance, as a matter of fact, they probably can plan this years in advance. 

With 19 of my shipmates having been laid off, I am not too pleased with this plan; I suspect, the Captains and I will be losing our positions shortly as well. Personally, I sort of saw this “writing on the wall” with the way things have been going, especially when Shell closed its Montreal refinery in late 2010, but it is still shocking. I will probably be force to accept another position that will cut my salary by about 25%.

I can’t help to wonder what ship will be laid up next, maybe Valero, or whomever else, will be emboldened, and start banning “blue hulled ships” - just because, and once again apply for waivers because or “dire storage shortage”. I thought you might like to know…. 


Who's next?
Most might say this move of importing foreign flagged vessels into Canadian trade was inevitable with global sense of business; especially with the shortage of Canadian seafarers. Perhaps, but it still does not make it right or acceptable.  

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,