The Scourge of the American Petroleum Tankers That Prowl the British Columbia Coast - by INGMAR LEE (U.S. ATBs)


Harley is a lawyer without seagoing experience. He merely relied upon his naval architects, shipyard, pin manufacturer, ABS, USCG, SIRE auditors, insurance surveyors, etc. who all told him that the Jake Shearer was properly designed, and built, met all required standards, and was seaworthy and fit for the intended trade.

I’m not in favor of putting anyone in jail for an accident, but if I were, I’d start with the people who wrote the inadequate regulations. Next those who designed to only meet the bare minimum regulations that they ought to know are inadequate.

It looks like the Nathan Stewart accident virtually wiped out Kiby’s large and profitable West Coast division. That’s an enormous penalty.

I wonder what role the Jake Shearer incident had in Harley’s loss of three major contracts to Vane? Maybe Harley is paying a big penalty too?

I understand when small struggling companies take big risks to save small sums. They often don’t know any better, and don’t have much choice. I don’t understand when large well funded companies take on huge risks to save a few pennies.


Except for ATBs I completely agree. I started out working oil barges between Seattle and Skagway and all points between with a wire boat. At the same time there were Canadian coastal tankers plying the same waters and spills were very few and far between.
I see this as a political issue that except for banning what should have been banned long ago as a criminally rule busting ATB/ITB scam I simply do not see an issue. It is fair enough to limit the size of tankers running the inside, it is no place for large crude carriers and going offshore would be faster anyway.

The title of this thread is an insult to mariners and the industry, it is nothing more than fear mongering clickbait.


I think this thread title came from some new age treehugger’s article that was published elsewhere. I agree that the treehugger’s article is ill-informed nonsense and an insult to mariners, but I don’t have a problem with the title being used here in such a mocking way.

If a an ATB consists of a real fully equipped tugboat and barge set up to be towed on the wire, and it has a large capable crew experienced in towing, I don’t have a problem with that.

If it is designed and intended never to tow except in an emergency, in other words it’s a make-believe tugboat, then no. That should not be allowed.

If an ATB is just a tanker with a propulsion system and wheelhouse attached by a hinge, then no. That should be treated as a tanker. It should not be allowed to be operated as if it were a tug and barge.

I think that there should be some practical limit on the size of oil carrying ATBs and the routes that they can operate on. If we can require tankers to have double hulls, we could also require them to have fully attached enginerooms.

I would like to see more small ATBs, it’s a good technology for some applications, provided that they are fully capable of towing on the wire.


The article does not insult mariners, in fact the opposite.

As the crew dealt with their numerous emergencies, the loaded fuel barge drifted out of control straight towards the Gosling Rocks, -a formidable set of reefs that extend southwards from the Goose Islands group into Hecate Strait.

Eventually the crew of the Jake Shearer turned to the problem of its drifting barge. They endeavoured to nudge the barge away from its steady trajectory towards the rocks. This is a dangerous maneuver

Eventually after a long struggle, two courageous crew were able to leap from the heaving decks of the Jake Shearer to the barge, and from there deploy an anchor, and finally, the Zidell Marine 277 fetched up and held about a stones throw from the Gosling Roctks.

I didn’t see these details in earlier reporting.

I changed the title, added the authors name.


I think the words “scurge” and “prowl” are probably what raise ire.


Yeah, no doubt.

It’s actually a good article.

Working mariners always have to close the gap between what needs to be done and what they are given to do it. Sometime it’s easy, sometime not.

I’m lucky I work with really good equipment.

Tanker Sola and Norwegian navy frigate Helga Ingstad collide off Norway

Just gave the article a second look. The government’s reaction makes a lot more sense in the context of the current debate about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

We know that the public generally does not care about marine incidents that don’t involve photos of oiled wildlife. Which partly explains the different reactions, but why no investigation? (AFAIK)

Here is from the article:

When the “Nathan E Stewart” sank in Seaforth Channel, the incident happened at a sensitive time during the Trudeau regimes’ carefully crafted roll-out of announcements designed to soften public opinion towards their pending approval of the Kinder Morgan bitumen pipeline project to the BC coast. As a result, more than $100 million is said to have been spent on removing the sunken wreck from the waters. During the 1 1/2 month salvage operation, virtually every asset of the Canadian Coast Guard made an appearance at the wreck site, as did numerous giant tugboats, barges, the entire fleet of the Kinder Morgan-owned “Western Canada Marine Response Corporation,” gargantuan floating heavy-lift cranes, teams of divers, Lear Jet loads of Texas oilmen, floating man-camps full of personnel, helicopters hovering continuously overhead.

Enormous crane barges brought up from Seattle. photo: Ingmar Lee

And what of the Jake Shearer disaster, which would have been orders of magnitude a much worse catastrophe than the Nathan E Stewart? The Jake Shearer, by sheer luck, did not spill any oil. Therefore it has been swept under the rug and forgotten. Whereas the Nathan E Stewart disaster prompted Transport Canada as well as American investigations, along with parades of federal government Ministers and dignitaries visiting Bella Bella, -all proffering the usual platitudes that “this can never be allowed to happen again, -with the Jake Shearer nothing at all. There has been no investigation. The Jake Shearers identical sistership ATB’s continue to threaten the BC Inside Passage, each equipped with the same “Articouple” locking pins which failed so dramatically. These ATB’s carry on with no conventional towing winch, and their working skiffs continue to be mounted on their barges.

In fact nothing whatsoever was learned and nothing whatsoever has changed.

I didn’t really pay this section any mind when I first read it but it does appear that the Canadian government doesn’t want any questions raised about oil transport by water.


There was serious buckling, cracking and holing of the hull below the water line where the pins bent and tore loose. Seawater was pouring into its tanks. Up in the wheelhouse, perched on top of the 70 ft pedestal built to enable the helmsman to see across the top of the 100 metre long barge, the American crew was being bashed around as it swung back and forth in the 4 metre seas in a wild pendulum arc. Windows in the wheelhouse were smashed out.

I haven’t seen the hull damage mentioned here before.




Politics is a nasty business, also in Canada, with a lot of backroom deals and the influence of big money. I believe that this whole unsavory matter is therefore been kept quiet in the interest of certain parties who benefit by it.

However, in my opinion they are taking a huge risk because if another accident occurs with a real oil spill then this whole business could backfire on them.


No, I was a little premature with that, no PAC’s yet in Canada. It was this link that led me in that direction. I have to reword my text…


not to mention the inter-provincial strife that’s built in to the system.


My personal view is that Canada should spare no efforts, at least no reasonable efforts, to avoid a major spill by waterborne oil transportation. This is simple to say, but a lot harder to effectively and reasonably implement.

The trans mountain pipeline and VLCC crude oil transport from Alberta by pipeline through Kitimat or Vancouver to Asia are beyond the scope this topic.

The issue here is the safe transport of a relatively small quantity of refined petroleum products: diesel, kerosene, jet fuel, and gasoline, from refineries in the US or Canada to the rural communities of Southeast Alaska. We are talking about “non persistent” oils that nature is very good at breaking down. We are not talking about crude, black oils, or hazardous waste. The population and oil consumption in Southeast Alaska are both quite small. Perhaps two 40,000 barrel ATBs or tankers could supply all the oil to Southeast Alaska. This is not a large trade.

There are a number of feasible ways to supply Southeast Alaska with oil:

  1. Small foreign flag tankers could carry the oil from Canadian refineries to Southeast Alaska communities.

  2. A foreign flag tanker could bring refined products directly from Asia to new Southeast tank farms, probably at Juneau and Ketchikan. Local barges could then deliver from the tank farms to smaller communities.

  3. Small tankers or ATBs could deliver oil from Washington refineries to Southeast communities. The current method in use.

What could the Canadians reasonably do to assure that the transport of oil through BC to Southeast Alaska would be safe?

  1. Require Canadian licensed pilots for tankers and oil barges? That sounds reasonable to me. It just adds a few pennies to the cost.

  2. Establish construction, equipment, and inspection standards (including pin systems), and safe manning levels for ATBs and tankers transiting BC waters? Again, it just adds pennies to the cost.

  3. Ban ATBs? Why? Properly designed, constructed, equipped, crewed, and operated ATBs are particularly well suited to the Inside Passage, but probably not out in Hecate Strait during rough weather. Banning ATBs and tankers from the northern part of the inside passage is a counterproductive knee jerk reaction, particularly when a much larger cruise ship trade carrying significant quantites of persistent black oil are not being banned from the Inside Passage. This makes no sense.

This is a relatively small and simple problem with a reasonably small and simple solution.


I could not agree more. I had a look at pictures of the Inside Passage and it is stunningly beautiful, something worth protecting. Giving it the status of a National Park would probably be too much to ask for…

The problem is that when an accident occurs on that route help is probably far away and time to act, due to the proximity of land masses, is very limited. How do you organize that? One solution could be to have a redesign of the coupling system so that the tug cannot break free from the barge so easily as it did now with the Jake Shearer. Another one is to drop the whole concept and build a couple of small tankers dedicated to and especially equipped for this trade.

It is impossible to make the transport of oil 100% safe but you can or rather should always try to reduce the chances of an accident as much as possible.


A much bigger concern is all those cruise ships, some times several per day, navigating the tightest places at significant speed and carrying large quantities of HFO (black oil).

The first thing the Canadians should do to protect the Inside Passage is ban using or carrying HFO onboard in the Inside Passage.


The odds of a tankship oil spill in Banff National Park are pretty low.

That photo is a lake in Alberta. The “scourge” of American petroleum tankers is not one of the issues that bother the locals.


It was amongst all the other pictures of the Inside Passage, for me it is hard to tell them apart…


I thought it looked like freshwater.


Not postcard quality but taken from the wheelhouse, in 1986. Don’t recall the location??


The pins on the Jake are Articouple, a Japanese design that has been in use for many, many years there and throughout Asia without incident. They can also be found in Europe and South America, as well as the US.