A federal investigation into an accident at the Westshore Terminals coal port at Roberts Bank is now underway.
On Dec. 7, the Panama-registered and Japan-owned bulk carrier Cape Apricot crashed into a causeway, destroying about 100 metres of the structure, including a coal conveyer system.
The ship severed the only link with one of the terminal's two loading berths, knocking out half the capacity of North America's busiest coal port. Nobody was injured and the ship had only minor damage.
A spokesperson with the Transportation Safety Board told the Optimist the accident, referred to as an "occurrence," has been classified as a class-three investigation.
Each transportation occurrence is assigned to one of five different investigation classes, depending on the circumstances determined in an initial inquiry.
According to the Transportation Safety Board, a class-three occurrence is determined if there's significant public expectation the TSB should independently make findings as to cause and contributing factors or there is potential for better understanding of safety issues.
At the top of the investigation categories are class-one occurrences, which merit a public inquiry.
The spokesperson with the agency noted the "field phase" of the investigation, where investigators gather information for later analysis, is still in the early stages. A full report will be published at the end of the investigation.
Berth 1, which can handle vessels up to 260,000 deadweight tonnes using a single, rail-mounted shiploader capable of loading at a rate of 7,000 tonnes per hour, was damaged. Its loss represents a huge drop in the amount of product that can be handled at the coal port.
In a recent interview, Denis Horgan, general manager of Westshore Terminals Limited Partnership, said reconstruction could take months.
The accident resulted in several tonnes of coal spilling into the water, but Westshore maintains there was minimal environmental impact and that coal is inert and not harmful in its natural state. A recovery plan is in the works to remove it.
Westshore says during its 42-year history, over 8,300 ship dockings have occurred without incident.
Westshore has filed a lawsuit against the ship's owners alleging "the vessel was navigated, managed and operated in a negligent manner, or in the alternative, in a grossly negligent manner by her owners, master, pilot and crew."
The accident provided more fuel to opponents of a proposed jet fuel delivery plan by a consortium of airlines using the Vancouver International Airport. The consortium is proposing to ship fuel up the Fraser River to a tank farm that would be built on the Richmond side of the south arm of the river.
Vancouver Airport Pipeline Opposition for Richmond is pointing out the recent accident shows how groundings and fuels spills can happen. Delta council has told the province that greater effort is required to independently assess other options to that project.