A pair of sunken boats in “tangled lines of responsibility” are a prime example of the quagmire of coastal responsibilities, according to Victoria MP Murray Rankin.
Two boats have been partially submerged near Oak Bay Marina since last week.
The current provincial process is exactly what residents and local police have followed, calling around to the different agencies about the sunken vessels. A provincial handbook outlines six agencies at three levels of government that oversee different issues of abandoned and derelict vessels.
“Here we have admittedly a complex problem,” Rankin said. “If you see a derelict vessel you shouldn’t need to call a lawyer to see who’s responsible.”
The submerged vessels in the waters off Beach Drive are exactly the situation he hopes to address by backing a bill introduced by Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder. Bill C-638 would designate responsibility for derelict vessels to the Canadian Coast Guard.
“It’s exactly the kind of problem you’ve put your finger on in Oak Bay,” Rankin said. “It’s proactively empowering the Coast Guard to take any action they may need to take before it becomes a hazard to navigation or a hazard to environment.”
Environment Canada and Transport Canada are currently among the list of those responsible for cleanup if navigation or pollution are concerns. Then there are the unknowns, Rankin noted. Are these boats even abandoned? Is there a salvage claim?
The private member’s bill wouldn’t address other problems in the region, such as concerns over live-aboard vessels.
“There are issues that need to involve local government there, but that’s another specific problem,” Rankin said.
For abandoned and derelict vessels the Coast Guard is the answer, he feels.
“These issues you’ve put your finger on, they’re up and down the coast, they’re everywhere and we need to have clear lines of authority,” Rankin said. “This is a complicated issue and every agency is trying to do its best … but the public demands that we co-ordinate our services better.”
He cites the central-coast community of Namu, where definition of abandonment and ownership appeared to hold the province at bay.
“The old canning factory has this boat jingle jangling around in the waves and horrible weather, full of oil and stuff and it’s going to be an ecological disaster and no one’s doing anything about it,” he said.
B.C. ordered a cleanup of the site earlier this month.
While it’s a more extreme case than perhaps the pair of sunken boats in Oak Bay, the bill could “close the loophole,” Rankin said. “People have to ultimately engage the Coast Guard as much as they can.”
He remains optimistic about the bill introduced by Crowder, who plans to retire this year. It was debated first in February, and is expected back in the House of Commons in April.
“She sees this as one of her legacy pieces,” Rankin said. “I think there’s a lot of good will and this is a common sense bill.”