The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) released a new workshop report, Commercial Marine Shipping Accidents: Understanding the Risks in Canada. The report identifies the risks of commercial marine shipping accidents across Canada’s regions and for different cargo types, while highlighting gaps in understanding and areas for further research.

The shipping industry is important to the livelihood of Canadians, but also faces public scrutiny which has heightened in recent years. The risks associated with opening the Arctic to greater ship traffic, increasing marine shipments of oil from Canada’s oil sands, and the growth in vessel size, especially of container ships, have all contributed to this discussion. 

The workshop report brought together expert input from academia, government, and industry and was informed by evidence from a survey of the marine shipping community and an extensive review of the existing literature. The final workshop report can be used as a tool for policy-makers to help inform decisions related to managing the risks of commercial marine shipping accidents, and contribute to a broader national conversation about acceptable levels of risk in commercial marine shipping. 

Key Findings

  • Commercial marine shipping risks are mitigated by a large body of regulations, safety protocols and practices, and navigation technologies, which have made marine shipping, in Canada and globally, much safer in recent decades.
  • Commercial marine shipping operates in a complex risk environment where a variety of factors interact to increase or decrease the likelihood of an accident and the severity of its impact.
  • The nature of commercial marine shipping risk varies by region due to differences in cargo, regulation, physical traits of the marine environment, and economic, social, and cultural uses of waterways and coastlines.
  • Risks associated with major oil spills are significant and well documented, and they underscore how resulting environmental impacts can bring about social, economic, and health impacts.
  • Better-quality marine shipping data are needed if the likelihood of incidents and accidents is to be better understood and measured for different cargo types, stages of shipping, and types of impacts.
  • Further research would address gaps in the understanding of Canada‚Äôs marine risk environment, particularly with respect to impacts of hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) and diluted bitumen, spills in freshwater and cold environments, and on the multi-agency system that oversees marine safety in Canada. 

The full report is available for download, free of charge, on the Council’s website (