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Photo: USGS
Photo: USGS

U.S. and Canada collaborate on Seaway vessel checks

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Huge freighters from all over the world ply the waters of the St. Lawrence River on their way to the Great Lakes. Some are new and high tech. Others are rusty and old. The vessels vary greatly in their safety measures and labor conditions.

The U.S. and Canada each inspect these ships individually, but now a new joint project aims to speed up the process and boost commerce in the region.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer


Foreign flagged ships bring a number of potential risks to the shores of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. There are terrorism concerns. River residents always fear a major oil spill like the one in 1976. And then there are working conditions: In 2010, for example, 22 Chinese seamen became violently ill when phosphine gas leaked into their living quarters.


Both the U.S. and Canada inspect those ships to make sure they’re safe. Commander Scott Anderson runs the inspections and investigations program for the U.S. Coast Guard in the Great Lakes: “We’re looking at the mariners to make sure they’re properly licensed and qualified. We’re looking at the navigation system to make sure they can safely navigate. We’re looking at their damage control systems like their fire pump. We’re looking at their cargo control systems to make sure they have appropriate alarms on board in order to prevent pollution events and that kind of thing.”


The U.S. and Canada each do these inspections on their own, and Anderson says their efforts can overlap. The two countries have been working recently to harmonize regulations. And, because Seaway ships generate billions in commerce and support more than 200,000 jobs across the region, they’ve been working to make trade more efficient.


Anderson says the Coast Guard and Transport Canada are trying a new system, where U.S. and Canadian inspectors board a ship together. They’ve done this five times already in Montreal and plan to continue, “to see how well we can align our two inspection processes in order to accomplish what we need to do while still reducing the workload on the vessel.”


Anderson says the pilot project is inspired in part by a similar binational process begun in 2006, that checks ships’ ballast in Montreal. It’s widely credited with stemming the number of invasive species that sneak into the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.






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