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Crews Strike Seaspan’s Tugboat Operations at Canada's BC Ports

Canadian tugboat strike
Seaspan's tugs operate at Canada's British Columbia ports including Vancouver (Seaspan)

Published Aug 26, 2022 2:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

The captains and other crew members aboard Seaspan’s tugboats which operate in the ports of British Columbia, Canada, walked off their jobs on Thursday, August 25, striking after their union failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with Seaspan. Concern was raised that the strike could impact operations at the Port of Vancouver, which has already been experiencing congestion and delays due to the increased container volumes as well as a shortage of trucks and congestion on Canada’s rail lines.

“Our contract negotiations at Seaspan ULC have reached an impasse and we will be commencing a legal strike at noon Pacific time on Thursday, August 25th,” the Canadian Merchant Service Guild said in a brief written statement. The union is the national association of masters, mates, pilots, engineers, and other marine officers across Canada.

Seaspan confirmed to CTV News that negotiations on renewing its collective agreement with the Canadian Merchant Service Guild had been unsuccessful. The company said it had been bargaining with the assistance of federal mediators but that the talks had reached a standstill. 

The company, which describes itself as “the largest and most diverse tug and barge company on Canada’s West Coast,” operates a fleet of more than 30 tugboats providing services at ports including Vancouver and Victoria. Services include ship docking, tanker escort, and emergency towing, as well as operating a fleet of over 100 specialty and general-purpose barges that provide transportation for many of BC’s largest industries and major marine construction projects.

In a statement to the media, a spokesperson for Seaspan said, "We are working to resolve the issues and minimize any impacts to our customers and the broader industry." The strike is only impacting Seaspan ULC with operations continuing at the company’s other divisions which include drydocks, shipyards, and commercial ferries.

A spokesperson for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority told CBC News that they were monitoring the job action for any impacts it would have on the port. "Seaspan is one of four tug-assist providers and one of two bunker suppliers at the port, so these services may be affected," the spokesperson said. "We hope for a swift resolution between the parties."

Port officials in Victoria, which is the height of the summer tourist season and receiving cruise ships sailing to Alaska, said they were also monitoring the situation. However, they said the strike was not expected to impact upcoming cruise ship calls at the port.