Giants Among Us

February 9th, 2013
At Anchor, Cowichan Bay

At Anchor, Cowichan Bay

Originally published March 04 2011

A shortage of freight has put parking at a premium for those ocean going bulk carriers calling on ports in the Vancouver area.

Burrard Inlet, the normal staging area, is packed full. There’s simply no place for them to go at present. It costs plenty of money to keep a ship riding on station in open waters particularly when storms roll through and so we’ve been playing host to more than our regular share of these behemoths this winter season. In Cowichan Bay over the last few months we’ve had as many as seven at a time swinging at anchor.

Coal, grain and other raw materials aren’t making it over the mountains to our ports and loading facilities fast enough due to poor weather. The risk of avalanche is too great to allow trains to proceed as they might other times of the year. The railways, both the CPR and the CN can’t keep up with demand, and this volume of freight isn’t something that can be moved in any other way.

This situation has some people in a bit of a flap, drawing complaints from those who don’t like the lights on at night in the Bay, those who complain that the ships make noise and wisps of  frightening black smoke, those who are afraid someone might flush an on-board toilet and finally from those who are angry that someone has the temerity to drop an anchor on top of the crabs they themselves would like to catch and eat. Few choose to consider the realities of modern day shipping, so long as Walmart is able to keep cheap merchandise from China in stock.

Our area director, Lori Iannidinardo who can always be counted on to pipe up in the media was quoted recently as saying; “All the decks are lit up and the generator runs 24-7, so this is really causing havoc in the community with people having to wear masks, earplugs, it’s really a detriment to their everyday living.” “They are more frequent and the problem is they stay longer.”

It appears that nobody is happy with the situation. I imagine least pleased of all are the vessels’ owners, who spend thousands of dollars daily on ships which idle in port. Imagine the bank interest alone on the investment  one of these bulkers represents.

Off Genoa Bay

Off Genoa Bay

There is a slight glimmer of a bright side to this situation however and it comes courtesy of

Each one of these vessels carries on board a radio reporting device, which gives identity, course, speed and location information. It is possible thereby to see who’s who out in the Bay, who owns who, where who is going and what who is carrying. Many of our local vessels carry these transponders, including the BC ferry fleet and many of the towboats which work our waters. Sea-Span for example, is well represented.

So rather than curse the vessels which have no choice but to drop their massive hooks in order to wait their turn at the Ports of Vancouver,  have a look at:

You can search by vessel name, ports of the world or even through the photographs uploaded by local ship spotters.

The Live Map works just like any Google Map you’ve ever used and you can see the vessels overlaid once you zoom in on that part of the world which strikes your fancy. At the larger scales, areas are divided into boxes or large squares of ocean area. The number listed in the center of each box is the number of ships in that given area.

Cowichan Bay Staging Area

Cowichan Bay Staging Area

Once you’ve found your way around and it won’t take long, you can log in, select from the vessels listed and track them as they make their way around the world using the “My Fleet” feature.

Case in point is a vessel which visited the bay a few years back. She was the CIELO DI VANCOUVER, an Italian ship loading lumber bound for China. The mills at Ladysmith were helping our own sawmill produce the wood that made  up part of her manifest.

By zooming in to Cowichan Bay, I was able to find her icon close to the lumber loading dock. Placing my mouse arrow over the icon on the map revealed a brief summary and a photograph of the ship. Double clicking then, brings this information: It’s current up to the hour or so.

There’s a good chance that by the time you’ve read this, the ship will have been loaded and is long on it’s way. You’ll be able to follow her though, since the informational page lists both port of departure, and port of  destination.

It makes for interesting reading and you don’t need binoculars any more.

Live Ships Map View

Live Ships Map View

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