Deep Bay rep supports private member’s bill re: derelict vessels

Bill Veenhof calls the situation ‘an accident waiting to happen’

GREG SAKAKI

Nanaimo News Bulletin

Not every ship in the sea is seaworthy, and therein lies the problem.

The issue of derelict vessels was floated in the House of Commons last week as Sheila Malcolmson, NDP MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, introduced a private member’s bill to amend the Canada Shipping Act.

“This is a desire to see a solution to a long-standing problem,” she said.

Bill C-219 is intended to simplify the process for dealing with derelict vessels by putting the issue under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Coast Guard. Currently, Malcolmson said, the approach is scattered.

“If it’s a hazard of navigation, you call the coast guard; if it’s an environmental site, you call Environment Canada; if it’s on Crown land, you phone the provincial government,” she said. “It’s so frustrating for people and it means everybody points a finger at someone else.”

Derelict vessels are a problem in Nanaimo. Edward Dahlgren, Nanaimo Port Authority director of operations and harbour master, said the port deals with about 10 wrecks a year at a total annual cost of anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000.

Already in 2016, the port authority has “binned” four vessels, he said, even taking care of a wreck at Gabriola Island’s Pilot Bay, outside harbour limits, because the board decided it was the right thing to do.

“So we incurred the cost to salvage it, bring it into the harbour, lift it out of the water, truck it to the port facility and then crush it,” he said.

Sometimes dealing with a derelict vessel is even more onerous. Dahlgren pointed to one high-profile example a few years ago, a wreck on Protection Island, that he said has cost the port more than $200,000 including legal costs of a continuing lawsuit. The binning process involved consultation and environmental surveys, then a lot of work.

“We had to manually move oysters, bring a barge in, load an excavator, carefully break the vessel up, put it into bins, remove it, rake the beach, go over the beach by hand and then put the oysters back,” Dahlgren said.

The port authority’s role wouldn’t necessarily change if Malcolmson’s bill becomes law, though Dahlgren said having clarity about responsibility is beneficial.

He’s hoping ports will receive financial assistance — dollars spent dealing with derelict vessels, he said, are dollars that could be better spent on harbour improvements and community initiatives. But Bill C-219 doesn’t specifically address funding, beyond strengthening language in the shipping act about tracking down a wreck’s owner. The owner of a derelict vessel is supposed to be responsible for its removal, but if the captain has truly abandoned ship, the bill tends to get paid with tax dollars and port fees.

“The problem is funding,” said Bill Veenhof, Regional District of Nanaimo chairman. “To clean up these vessels costs money, and who’s paying for it?”

As the region’s Area H representative, Veenhof sees the problem first-hand in Deep Bay, where there are numerous derelict ships at anchor. He said “absolutely,” Malcolmson’s bill is useful, as it’s federal leadership on a federal problem. Right now he’s the one getting the phone calls, pretty much every week.

“Those boats — you’d have to see them to truly believe them,” Veenhof said. “They’re certainly on the very fringes of what you would consider acceptable.”

The coast guard monitors the situation there, regularly pumping out the boats that are starting to sink.

“Because it costs so much, the coast guard, bless their souls, are targeting the vessels that are the most dangerous, the most problematic,” said Veenhof. “From what I’ve heard, we haven’t had a significant spill. We’ve had an odd one. But it’s an accident waiting to happen.”