It took almost no time at all for opponents of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project to point to the grounding of the Amakusa Island as proof positive of the risks associated with oil tankers traversing the coast.
A lot of comments and discussion were along the lines of “take note, Enbridge” and “imagine if that had been an oil tanker”. In the spirit of dialogue, let’s go ahead and imagine the Amakusa Island was an oil tanker.
The fact that there was a Canadian pilot on board does indeed show that accidents happen even with local expertise. And yes, an oil tanker has just as much chance of running aground as the coal-handling Amakusa. But before the sky fills with red flags, let’s look at the facts.
When the vessel hit the land, despite being loaded with 80,000 metric tonnes of coal, it took on water but it didn’t sink thanks to the quick action of the captain who closed off bulkheads. None of the product escaped from the single hulled ship. Crews were quickly on scene and there was no environmental contaminants making its way into the ocean.
I imagine if it had been a double-hulled oil tanker that struck that piece of land, all of the above would be true. There would have been no product spillage, as the double hull provides extra protection, the captain and engineers would still have shut down the bulkheads to keep the ship afloat, the response time would have been the same.
So really, opponents telling Enbridge to take note of an accident that had no spillage, injury or long-term impacts to the environment doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Could this have been worse? Yes, much worse. But pointing to this incident as proof of the risks of oil tankers plying these waters is simply fear-mongering, which is the lowest common denominator of opposition.
You can’t point to the grounding of the Amakusa Island as a reason to oppose oil tanker traffic anymore than you can point to a fender-bender as a reason not to drive. It just doesn’t work.