Speeches

Notes For Remarks
by
Camille Thériault
Chairman Transportation Safety Board of Canada

at a news conference to release the final report on Investigation # M01C0054

Involving the lowering of Welland Canal Bridge 11 onto the Windoc bulk carrier at Allanburg, Ont. 9 January 2003

Introduction

Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada appreciates your interest and concern for the safety of Canadians.

It is a concern we share, which is why we conducted this in-depth investigation into an accident on the Welland Canal, and have made a series of recommendations to enhance shipping safety.

Over the next few minutes, I will give you a brief description of the accident, as well as TSB's role in investigating such occurrences.

I will then turn the microphone over to my colleagues Paul van den Berg, Marine Investigator and Fred Perkins, Director of Investigation Marine Branch. They will provide more detail on the investigation findings and the safety actions already taken.

Overview of the occurrence

On 11 August 2001, the bulk carrier Windoc, travelling from Thunder Bay to Montreal with a cargo of wheat, was passing through the Welland Canal.

As the Windoc passed beneath lift bridge number 11, near Allanburg, Ont., the bridge began to descend. The vertical lift span struck the vessel, destroying the wheelhouse and funnel. The Windoc drifted for a time, caught fire and ran aground.

Fortunately, no one was hurt and there was no oil leak or other pollution. The cargo was not damaged, although the ship was declared a total loss. As a result of this accident, the Welland Canal was closed for two days.

In the first few months of the investigation and prior to the opening of the next shipping season, TSB has issued four safety advisories and noted improvements made by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC), Transport Canada and local emergency response teams. This canal is a critically important waterway, with more than 3,000 vessels passing through in a typical year. More stringent measures are required to enhance the safety of the public, on the water and on shore.

TSB

Before I ask my colleagues to provide you with more details of the accident, permit me to remind you that the Transportation Safety Board is an independent agency dedicated to enhancing transportation safety. Our role is to investigate occurrences involving ships, pipelines, trains and aircraft.

Our mandate is to find out what happened, and why. We look for safety deficiencies, and make recommendations to prevent similar accidents from happening again.

Our job is not to assign fault or liability.

Safety advisories

As my colleagues have explained, our investigation turned up a number of safety deficiencies that prompted us to issue four Marine Safety Advisories. The objective of such advisories is to ensure that problems are addressed immediately, before our final report is published.

It is important to note that the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, Transport Canada and the local fire departments have undertaken to initiate actions to address a number of the safety issues identified as a result of the investigation and our advisories.

TSB congratulates them for taking action quickly as a result of our Safety Advisories. TSB has completed an assessment to determine if the risks have been adequately addressed. While we recognise their efforts, further action needs to be undertaken with respect to safety sensitive positions, emergency preparedness, bridge operations and ship firefighting. As a result, the Board has made the following five recommendations.

TSB recommendations

A comprehensive program is necessary to ensure that any diminishment of an employee's performance in a safety-sensitive position is identified and dealt with as soon as possible. And so, within the scope of the Canadian Human Rights Commission's Policy on Alcohol and Drug Testing, TSB recommends:

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation reassess and clearly identify safety-sensitive positions in their organization in which incapacity due to impairment could result in direct and significant risk of injury to the employee, others or the environment.

and that:

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation establish programs and policies which are pro-active and promote early detection of impairment and safety risk of employees occupying safety-sensitive positions by management, supervisors or peers and which provide an effective mechanism for remedial action.

We want to see peers, supervisors and management all watching out for early signs of impairment by people occupying safety-sensitive positions. And we want to see effective remedial action.

Our investigation also found that the local emergency response agencies had never conducted a joint exercise to simulate a co-ordinated response to a major vessel-related emergency within the canal. This canal is a critically important waterway, with more than 3,000 vessels passing through in a typical year. Many carry petroleum and other chemical products, which could cause serious damage to populated areas nearby. Given the high risks, we therefore recommend that:

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation conduct, in collaboration with the other appropriate authorities and organizations, exercises to respond to vessel-related emergencies which may be encountered within the Seaway, including the Welland Canal, in order to evaluate the preparedness for responding to a major vessel-related emergency.

Other agencies have conducted similar exercises within the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. The Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, an American corporation responsible for the Seaway, has participated in, or hosted, annual emergency exercises since 1992.

Our fourth recommendation is directed at the Department of Transport. Since the commercialization of the Seaway and the turnover of day-to-day operations to the Corporation, we found Transport Canada has provided little, if any, oversight of emergency plans, training and exercises.

Therefore, we call on the federal regulator to:

Ensure that overall preparedness is appropriate for responding to vessel-related emergencies within the Seaway.

Our fifth recommendation is directed at the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. Although it has taken encouraging steps to correct safety deficiencies, the Board feels that effective backup monitoring systems are still required. Otherwise, the competence of the bridge operator remains the sole line of defence against accidents such as this.

We are therefore recommending that the Corporation:

Ensure that physical and administrative defences are in place to ensure that Seaway bridges are prevented from coming into contact with transiting vessels.

We have found, for instance, that some lift bridges under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Coast Guard use infrared technology to detect the presence of vessels beneath them.

Conclusion

Before I conclude, I would like to thank those who provided us with information. With full disclosure of the circumstances, we are able make our findings and recommendations and better inform the proper authorities. Together, we are able to advance transportation safety.

Significant improvements have been made by the Seaway and local emergency response authorities. TSB acknowledges these initiatives, and we applaud them.

However, more stringent measures are required to enhance the safety of the public, on the water and on the shore.

What is needed are policies and practices that are comprehensive and co-ordinated and, above all, provide the basis for controlling risks associated with the passage of ships through the Seaway system.

These have to be backed by contingency plans which need to be tested and used in training to further improve overall preparedness.

We hope to see our recommendations acted upon quickly. The advancement of transportation safety on the Seaway depends on it.

Thank you for your attention.