A tranquil morning in the Deep Bay Harbour was interrupted Wednesday morning when a 120-foot steel vessel began to list, sparking an immediate response from the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG).
“On investigation it was found that an open forward hatch allowed rainwater to enter the hold of the vessel,” CCG communications officer Dan Bates told The NEWS in an e-mail, noting this was a result of heavy rainfall in the preceding weeks.
Bates said the coast guard responded quickly by pumping off the rainwater to reduce the potential for the vessel to sink.
He confirmed the vessel did not pollute the surrounding marine environment.
The vessel known as the Laurier was originally built in the 1930s, and sources say it was originally constructed for the RCMP, served in the Navy during World War II and was even used as a patrol vessel for what is now Fisheries and Oceans Canada up until the 1980s. Today it is privately owned and resides on the calm waters of Baynes Sound, surrounded by a handful of vessels, some of which are thought to be derelict.
While Bates said the Laurier “is not technically derelict as it has an owner and a caretaker,” he said the CCG will continue to monitor the vessel to reduce the potential for it to pollute the surrounding area.
Vancouver Island University Deep Bay Marine Field Station manager Brian Kingzett knows all too well the danger of vessels threatening the coastline. Kingzett said if a vessel sinks, the environment will bear the brunt of the repercussions.
“The worst is the environmental issues relating to oil spills from the lube oils in either large main engine or the auxiliary engines,” he said.
“We doubt there is much, or any diesel on board, but each engine could easily have 45 gallons of oil in the sump which would be a significant spill as it will not evaporate like diesel.”
Meanwhile, Kingzett explained fish, wildlife, shellfish and the general ecology in Baynes Sound would be at risk along with the shellfish industry which could be shut down for up to one year.
Theoretically, if a vessel were to sink Kingzett said Transport Canada and the Coast Guard would be tasked with seizing the vessel.
“When the local pollution response arm of the Coast Guard was trying to get Ottawa support for removing the Silver King (an ex-tug boat in the bay) it was estimated (to cost) $250,000… but millions to raise it from the bottom,” Kingzett said. “Ironically, if it sinks the Ships Source Oil Pollution Fund can be applied to raise it after the fact — but can’t be used before it sinks.”
Dealing with derelict vessels has been a hot topic in Canadian coastal communities.
Earlier this year, Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder put forward bill C-638 which would have made the Canadian Coast Guard the sole receiver of wrecks, taking on full responsibility for aging, abandoned boats in the country. As it currently stands, there is no specific jurisdiction that deals with such vessels in the country.
However, Crowder’s bill was defeated in the House of Commons. There is still no legislation in place tackling derelict vessels as they pile up along the pristine Canadian coastline.
Kingzett said Puget Sound is taking a proactive approach south of the border.
According to a news release issued by the Puget Sound Partnership, San Juan County’s Derelict Vessel Prevention Program is being expanded throughout Puget Sound to combat the growing problem of derelict vessels in Washington waters.
“This program saves money and prevents pollution by identifying problem boats and connecting owners with community resources to help them properly handle the situation before the boats become unseaworthy and possibly sink,” states the release.
Regional District of Nanaimo director Bill Veenhof, who represents Deep Bay, said it all comes down to money.
“It cuts to money, if the province had more authority they could put in place an area licence fee and use that money to clean up wrecks,” Veenhof suggested, noting local government has almost no authority over the issue.
“I don’t imagine that would be terribly expensive to set up.”
He said it’s very difficult to find consensus and move forward due to “competing jurisdictions” surrounding the aging vessels.
“We need some method of funding — perhaps taxpayer funding,” said Veenhof. “The bottom line is how do you pay for it?”