Environmental anti-access: Canada frets over single-hull oilers

by Craig Hooper on August 9, 2010

A Canadian oiler in better days...

According to the Globe and Mail, Canada’s government worries that the HMCS Protecteur and the HMCS Preserver, their two 40-year-old single-hull oilers, are going to pose an environmental anti-access threat to Canadian Forces:

“These vessels are single-hulled, which violates most international environmental standards,” states a February, 2010 briefing note provided to Treasury Board president Stockwell Day by his senior public servant, Michelle d’Auray.

Mr. Day, who is responsible for finding savings to tackle the federal deficit, had requested a briefing on planned spending by the navy.

The note, which indicates it is based on discussions with National Defence officials, warns exemptions for single-hulled vessels are about to expire.

“These vessels have been grandfathered for most European ports until later this year and in the U.S. until 2015. Should the [vessels] be unable to enter European ports after this year, their use may be restricted to continental operations and would impact the Navy’s ability to sustain a Task Group,” it states. The note was released to The Globe in response to a request under the Access to Information Act.

Well, aside from the fact that naval auxiliaries are exempt from the MARPOL standards, all countries are obligated to work towards compliance. But, before we get all complacent and chortle about the loopholes inherent in international treaties, just remember that countries certainly have the right to quietly indicate that single-hulled tankers are unwelcome. It is a perfect way for nations to suddenly toss America’s at-sea replenishment plans into disarray.

And that, in itself could lead to a considerable anti-access challenge–one that potentially is far more serious (and immediate) than all those frighteningly nasty DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles in China.

But Canada has little to worry about. They have a plan, and they’ve only got to build build 2-3 new ships. The U.S., in comparison, has no plan–Just sort of a fragile hope that some T-AO(X) replacements start getting built, oh, you know, in 2020. The SSBN(X) may yet doom the U.S. to the unhappy prospect of operating a clutch of fifty-year old tankers and replenishment vessels.

In the U.S., all but three of America’s entire stock of oilers are single hull ships. By 2020, pretty much everybody else will be safely operating double-hull craft, and well, regardless of the Navy’s opinions about environmental stewardship, it just won’t be a good place for the U.S. to be strategically. It’s just not wise. No un-threatened ally thinks highly of a hard-run 30-40-year old single hulled oiler loitering about their shores anyway.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been quietly working this issue in various places since January 2010, and, over the coming months, you’ll all be hearing a lot more about the T-AO(X).

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