Holland America cruise ship Volendam beside an Alaskan glacier.

Coal foes aim to draw cruise ships into fight with port

Activists seek Holland America as ally against Surrey terminal

Anti-coal activists have trained their crosshairs on the cruise ship industry as a way to exert more pressure on Port Metro Vancouver to block expanded coal exports.

The group Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC) has written to the president of Holland America and other cruise lines asking them to urge the port to delay a decision on a new coal export terminal proposed in Surrey.

The group on Wednesday unfurled a protest banner in front of the Holland America cruise ship Voldendam. It read: “Enjoy your cruise before they make us North America’s biggest coal port.”

VTACC spokesman Kevin Washbrook said port authority officials appear “resolute” in their determination to push through the new Fraser Surrey Docks coal transfer facility despite strong opposition.

“They’re not listening to us so we need to up our game here and maybe they’ll listen to their customers,” he said.

Cruise ships are expected to bring 820,000 visitors to Vancouver this year and generate nearly half a billion dollars in economic activity.

They’re also one of the port’s biggest customers.

VTACC’s letter argues cruise lines should support the anti-coal campaign, because global warming from carbon emissions threatens the glaciers, salmon and killer whales that draw tourists to the Alaskan cruise route.

It says both coal barges and the “industrial landscape” of the coal transshipment site on Texada Island will be visible to cruise ship passengers.

“If the port authority approves this coal port it will be bad for the climate, bad for British Columbia and bad for Metro Vancouver,” it says. “We think it will be bad for your business, too.”

Washbrook said the group is urging its supporters to also write the cruise lines.

He said the idea occurred to him at the port’s recent AGM, where beautiful images of cruise ships featured prominently in promotional material.

If cruise lines query the port, he says, officials there may start to rethink the wisdom of the plan to add four to eight million tonnes per year of coal handling capacity at the new Surrey terminal.

It would handle U.S. thermal coal, which is rapidly dropping from use in North America but still in demand in Asia. Activists have so far blocked new coal terminals in Washington and Oregon in the hopes of keeping the fossil fuel in the ground and out of the atmosphere.

The new tactic by coal opponents would tear a page from the successful strategy of coastal forest defenders in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Back then, environmental groups threatened to boycott big lumber retailers and other U.S. forest product users, who in turn pressured B.C. forest companies to agree to reduced logging and sustainable management in the area activists dubbed the Great Bear Rainforest.

VTACC has no plans to organize any boycott of cruise lines or to picket passengers arriving in Vancouver, Washbrook said.

“Right now we see the cruise lines as our allies,” he said. “We’re not trying to make them out to be the bad guy. We’re trying to make them realize they have the same concerns we have.”

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