Pirate attacks: who is watching BC’s Coast?

Despite the federal government’s emphasis on the army and navy, the Canadian Coast Guard still lies under the jurisdiction of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. As a result, budget cuts are affecting operations on the west coast of Canada.

Vancouver’s Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre is already half way shut down, two years before the feds will close it in 2015. Coast Guard assistant commissioner Denis Sing said distress signals from boats in Vancouver harbour will be monitored in Victoria. In the meantime, safety position staff have been cut, leaving one staff member to watch for boats in trouble at night.

Sing says due to the cuts announced a year ago by Ottawa; three MCTS centres will be closed. This will leave just two centres monitoring the entire BC coast, and Vancouver – Canada’s busiest harbour.

British Columbia has about 17,000 miles of coast-line (if you straighten it out), with over 300 coves and inlets and 376,000 squares miles. Along the BC coast lighthouses are being de-staffed and there are fewer patrols than ever before.

So far the main challenges facing the BC coast are:

  • Drugs/arms/migrant smuggling
  • Environmental crimes – illegal pumping of bilges, etc.
  • Vessels in distress and ghost ships

Piracy attacks on the BC coast have yet to become a major problem but pirates are becoming more professional by adapting their tactics and by corrupting local authorities and regional administrations.

The UN Monitoring Group on Somali Piracy confirms previous assessments saying that pirates continue to adapt and expand their operational and organizational capabilities. In 2010 the International Maritime Bureau recorded 219 piracy attacks and 49 successful hijackings. The average amount of ransom paid by ship owners has increased to $4.26 million per ship, generating $102 million revenues in 2010.

There is also evidence that the Somali pirates are expanding their network. How long will it be until they start a sub-group here on the BC Coast? Until recently, there were few piracy attacks in South America, now that has changed. The Piracy Map shows current pirate attacks. Will Nanaimo embrace a pirate culture? Was former Mayor Frank Ney who was known for his pirate costume ahead of his time?

EU Naval Force units are working closely with staff from the recently launched EUCAP NESTOR mission, which aims to secure a long-term resolution to the piracy problem by enhancing the coastal maritime capacity of the Horn of Africa countries.

At the same time, coastal maritime monitoring in British Columbia is being reduced to nothing. Why is this the case?