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‘Infuriated’ Bachrach demands immediate action surrounding deaths of Prince Rupert tugboat crew

TSB findings must be actioned, Govt. ‘foot-dragging & corporate capture” must cease, MP says

Skeena Bulkley MP Taylor Bachrach called out directly to the federal transportation minister for immediate action to implement marine safety recommendations following the release of a new Transport Safety Board (TSB) report made public on March 8.

The TSB’s investigation report mentioned several findings and recommendations surrounding the fatal sinking of the tugboat Ingenika in Feb. 2021. The conclusions cover that the crew was not adequately trained, onboard survival equipment had not been maintained and the vessel was underpowered for the barge it was towing, among other findings.

At a press conference in Vancouver immediately following the release of the TSB’s findings, Bachrach stood beside union leaders and the crew’s family to address the four recommendations and conclusions of the investigation.

“Reading through the Transportation Safety Board’s report and the description of what happened — the only word I can think of is infuriating, infuriating to reflect on the negligence of a company that did not protect its workers, infuriating to reflect on a government that has known about the shortcomings and safety in this industry for years and yet has not acted.”

The TSB recommended four changes aimed at regulating tugs of 15 gross tonnes (GT) or less, including that Transport Canada expand its surveillance program to encompass regular inspections of tugboats 15 GT or less to ensure they are following regulatory requirements; that tugboat owners assess the risks of all the different operations their vessels may take on including the suitability of their tugs for the specific towing operations they are undertaking.

At the time of the sinking, the Ingenika was operating in a compulsory pilotage area that falls under the responsibility of the Pacific Pilotage Authority (PPA). The organization is mandated to establish, operate and administer safe and efficient pilotage services in B.C., a March 8, TSB press release stated. The PPA has a waiver system where exemptions are issued from having a licensed pilot on board. However, it does not verify the information provided meets regulatory requirements. The Ingenika had an exemption. However, the TSB findings indicate it did not qualify.

In the investigation report, TSB recommends that the PPA verify that tugs meet safety requirements before issuing pilotage waivers to owners; the PPA creates a process to verify ongoing compliance with pilotage waiver conditions.

Bachrach said steps already put in place have not been effective and the voluntary measures companies can choose to implement are not nearly strong enough to protect marine workers.

“We need better. This is a message for Omar Alghabra, Canada’s transport minister. We demand that you implement all of these recommendations immediately, that you increase the capacity of Transport Canada and you put proper fines in place so that companies that flout the regulations are held accountable. This is also a message for James Bates, who owned the tugboat that these men were sailing on. What happened was completely unacceptable. Those two mariners should be here with us today. It’s disgusting.”

“We can’t allow this Minister to continue this government’s legacy of foot-dragging and corporate capture that has persisted for far too long. Protecting works can not be voluntary - it must be mandatory. The Mariners who board these vessels every single day on our coast deserve to come home to their families.”

Bachrach acknowledged the work the Transportation Safety Board completed in the investigation report and hopes the recommendations will be enacted swiftly.

“We want to see change. We want to see strong rules put in place. We want to see strong enforcement,” the MP said, adding a reference to comments made recently by Kathleen Fox, Chair of the TSB.

“She said that the pace of change has been far too slow. We can’t afford that any longer. Whether it’s the marine industry, whether it’s the rail industry — when Canada’s safety investigative body makes recommendations, they must be taken incredibly seriously and immediately implemented. That’s what I’m going to be pushing for in Ottawa. And that’s what we’re going to work together to ensure happens,” Bachrach said.

“The Ingenika investigation highlights the ongoing concerns about safety management and regulatory surveillance, two major systemic safety issues in the transportation industry that are part of the TSB Watchlist,” Fox said. “Transport Canada needs to increase its surveillance of this vessel class and require owners and operators to assess risks adequately and the Pacific Pilotage Authority needs to ensure only qualified crew members and vessels are operating with pilotage waivers.”

K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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