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What kind of large ships come to B.C.?

Ever wonder about the difference between the large vessels you see on B.C.’s waters? The BC Coast Pilots respond to roughly 12,500 pilotage assignments each year, boarding a range of different vessel types in ports all along the province’s coast. While some vessels are clearly identifiable and have one clear purpose, such as the massive cruise ships we welcome each year, others aren’t so obvious.

To shed some light on marine traffic in B.C., we want to share a bit of information on the types of vessels we board every day. There are 6 main types of large vessels travelling through B.C.’s waters that make up more than 97% of pilotage assignments:

Bulk Carrier

  • Bulk containers are the most common and frequent in B.C.’s waters with 6,571 pilotage assignments in 2018, representing 53% of all pilotage assignments.
  • Transports commodities such as coal and grains. Can be dry or liquid cargo poured directly into the ship’s hold.
  • Identifiable by the large hatches visible on deck.
  • The average size of these vessels in our waters is 215.6 meters.

Container Ships

  • Container ships represented 16% of pilotage assignments in 2018.
  • Transports shipping containers used to hold imported consumer goods, machine parts and exported resources such as specialty grains and pulp.
  • Identifiable by containers stacked visibly above deck.
  • Some of the largest container ships in the world are about 400 meters long with a width of 55 meters, and can carry  over 23,000 20-foot containers! The largest to ever come into BC was 368 meters, but the average size of these ships is 304.3 meters.

Tankers

  • Tankers represented 10% of pilotage assignments in 2018.
  • These ships carry liquid cargo such as petroleum products, vegetable oil or chemicals. They have extra safety features such as double hulls, and require special assistance from tugboats.
  • Identifiable by piping visible on deck, and no large cranes.
  • Tanker capacities can range from a few thousand deadweight tonnes (DWT) to 550,000 DWT. The largest on the west coast are Panamax and Aframax, between 80,000 – 120,000 DWT (an average size of 180.3 meters).
  • 85% of tanker movements in Canada occur on the Atlantic coast.

Cruise Ships

  • In 2018, B.C. welcomed almost 1,000 cruise ships, accounting for 8% of all pilotage assignments.
  • These are passenger ships, mostly travelling from Vancouver or Victoria along B.C.’s coast towards Alaska and back.
  • Identifiable by the layers of passenger room decks and external amenities such as water slides.
  • The average size of cruise ships coming to B.C. is 270 meters. The largest one to visit the west coast, Ovation of the Seas, spanned almost 350 meters and can carry just under 5,000 people.

Breakbulk Carrier (General Cargo)

  • These vessels represented approximately 5% of all pilotage assignments in 2018.
  • Carries cargo that does not fit standard shipping containers such as forestry products and steel pipes.
  • Look similar to bulk carriers. Identifiable by large cargo on deck and visible cranes.
  • Average size for these vessels coming in to B.C. is 188.9 meters.

Automobile Carrier

  • In 2018, car carriers accounted for approximately 4% of all pilotage assignments.
  • Also known as “Ro-Ro” for roll-on/roll-off, or Car Carriers.
  • Carries vehicles and heavy duty equipment, mainly from Asia destined for Canada.
  • Identifiable by their very high, box-like form above the waterline to accommodate as many vehicles as possible.
  • In B.C., these vessels are about 196 meters on average.

The marine shipping industry is a critical link in the global supply chain. With Canada’s largest port, the Port of Vancouver, located on the coast of B.C., safe navigation through our challenging waterways ensures that neither ship owners or shippers are negatively impacted by marine safety incidents. Growth in Canada’s economy and communities will depend on increased shipping activity, which in turn demands public confidence in domestic and international marine safety, security and environmental protection regimes. BC Coast Pilots work with industry to support increased shipping activity while ensuring the safe movement of these vessels through our coastal waters.

So, the next time you see a large vessel coming in to port, chances are you’ll be well-equipped to identify its purpose, and the type of cargo it’s carrying – guided safely by a BC Coast Pilot.