A love affair with the sea

John Thomas probably loves his job more than most people.


It often means going out in the stormy waters of the Salish Sea as part of the Canadian Coast Guard’s environmental response team, riding the pollution response vessel CCG ER 701 to tackle an oil spill or marine mishap.

The boat is powered by twin, high-powered 8.1 litre John Deere engines that are ready to take on the roughest conditions. And his face lights up when he recounts just how tough those conditions can be: “When you are down below and look out the window and all you see is green water, you know it’s a going to be a wild ride.”

As he describes what led him to a career in the Coast Guard, he says that his role as an environmental response specialist proved to be a major turning point in his life. “When I go to bed, I can’t wait to wake up and go back out,” the 36-year-old proud husband and father confides.

Touring the base on the coastal delta around Richmond, BC, he shares his passion for the different types of equipment they pull into service to deal with mostly small-craft oil spills using an array of pumps to booms and landing craft.

There’s also lots of absorbent pads to soak up the oil, which then must be carefully transferred to large bags for disposal at an approved site. This is where new hires prove their worth by not overloading the bags since they can break as they are hauled over long distances for removal, he says with an insider’s grin of someone who’s been there before.

“It’s been six and a half years and I haven’t looked back. This was probably the best decision I’ve ever made, and the timing couldn’t have been better. How will you know what’s behind the door if you don’t open it?”

John Thomas leans on a boat

So far this year (late October 2022), the Coast Guard’s Environmental Response region which stretches from the southern BC coast, to Victoria, north and east as far Lake Winnipeg has had more than 900 calls, mostly small oil spills.

He recounts how he was “up close and personal” with the MV Zim Kingston, a ship that lost more than 100 containers and experienced a persistent chemical fire off Vancouver Island, in October 2021. Sometimes he is called out on an operation in Burrard Inlet, in the shadow of the Trans Mountain (TMX) terminal.

To save time, a Coast Guard crew will often pick him up near his traditional territory at Whey-Ah-Whichen (Cates Park) which means ‘facing the wind’ and he swings into operation, on shifts that can last days.

“We have a beautiful coast that I didn’t really know other than the waters of my Nation: Burrard Inlet, English Bay, False Creek, and parts of the Fraser River. My eyes were opened, and I got to travel the coast and waters of other First Nations. Through different courses and training the Coast Guard has offered me or sent me to, I’ve got to meet a lot of great people, First Nations, and others, and have always felt comfortable in any situation.”

Canada’s efforts to come to terms with its relationship with Indigenous Peoples are taking on greater importance as the marine shipping industry, government and ports explore new programs.

The issue of reconciliation is particularly relevant for the marine shipping industry as it touches the lives of Indigenous Peoples everywhere.

Pollution and underwater noise from ships, black carbon from ship engines in the Arctic, and wakes from ships on the Great Lakes and other waters can affect their economic development, culture, history, and hunting patterns of Indigenous communities.

Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan opens doors to and for Indigenous Peoples

In 2022, the Government of Canada renewed funding for the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), committing to provide $2 billion over nine years in an effort to protect Canada’s coasts and waterways.

One of the key objectives of the OPP is to “advance partnerships and training opportunities for Indigenous and coastal communities to incorporate their expertise and experiences in various aspects of marine safety and ecosystem protection.”

In late 2022, the federal government released a report on partnerships with Indigenous Peoples in protecting waterways and oceans.

In releasing the update, Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra noted: “Collaboration with Indigenous Peoples, coastal communities, scientists, and the marine industry has been the cornerstone of the Oceans Protection Plan. During the first five years of the Oceans Protection Plan, we made significant progress in marine safety and emergency response, protecting our ecosystems and marine wildlife, and building partnerships with Indigenous Peoples and coastal communities.”

Canada’s ports seek inclusion for Indigenous Peoples

As noted in last year’s review, Canada’s port authorities are required to work closely with Indigenous Peoples as their work affects traditional territories. On Canada’s East Coast, Lane Farguson, Communications Director at the Port of Halifax, says that the organization has been undergoing tremendous change over the past two years and this includes an increased focus on diversity, inclusion and engagement with racialized people and groups to ensure all voices are heard in their greater port community. “This of course includes Indigenous Peoples and our First Nation’s communities,” he says.

The marine shipping industry in Canada is still finding its way on the path to reconciliation.

This article is shared by courtesy of Clearseas – Read the original extensive article about all the maritime & shipping projects with the Indigenous People HERE.

For more articles about Canada, click here

Back to top button