Vancouver digs out; tug strike gets mediator

Vancouver digs out; tug strike gets mediator

While the Port of Vancouver reported significant improvement in clearing a backlog of containers, the federal government named a mediator to help resolve a strike by tug operators along Canada's West Coast that is costing an estimated $100 million a day in lost trade.

Containers delayed by congestion on Canadian Pacific Railway dropped to 95,000 feet from 165,000 feet last week at its three central terminals, and to about 13,000 feet from 41,000 feet at nearby Fraser Surrey Docks, according to Bob Hayter , manager of shore services for the Vancouver Port Authority.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway picked up much of CP Rail's U.S.-bound shipments at Fraser Surrey, and Hayter said other U.S.-bound boxes were re-loaded on vessels last week.

VPA Vice President Chris Badger said CP Rail was making progress clearing the docks by providing more railcars and giving intermodal trains preference over bulk shipments on its busy line out of Vancouver.

The appointment of the mediator comes amid warnings that the strike involving about 150 tugs is affecting 75 percent of marine operations in British Columbia, and cut container ship calls at Vancouver by nearly half.

Tugs under a separate contract are continuing to operate and critical grain shipments out of Vancouver have not been affected, port officials say.

Philip Nelson, a spokesman for the employers, said that if Lewis cannot get the talks re-started, employers will seek an injunction to stop the strike.

The strike, which began on Friday, was initiated by the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, which represents more than 500 striking tug boat masters, mates and engineers. It was precipitated by a dispute to replace a collective agreement that expired last Sept. 30.

-- with reporting by Courtney Tower in Ottawa