Federal MPs agree on abandoned and derelict vessels

    Photo by Jake Boudrot The Dutch Runner has been moored at the Port Hawkesbury Wharf since 2015.

    Even though they belong to different political parties and represent ridings on opposite coasts, two Members of Parliament agree that action is needed to clean up, dispose and fund the removal of unwanted vessels.

    Late last month, Nanaimo-Ladysmith (British Columbia) MP Sheila Malcolmson was in Nova Scotia to promote Bill C-325, a bill dealing with issues such as vessel registration, supporting local salvagers and vessel recycling, as well as a pilot vessel turn-in program.

    The NDP representative explained that the proposed legislation provides the federal government with the authority to take responsibility for abandoned vessels and ends the practice of having communities navigate “an impossible bureaucracy.”

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    Malcolmson mentioned The Arrow, a Liberian-registered tanker that ran aground in February, 1970 and remains at the bottom of Chedabucto Bay, between Guysborough and Richmond counties. In 2015, the government had to clean up 30,000 litres of Bunker C oil which leaked from the vessel.

    The opposition MP also addressed cases like that of the prolonged and unwelcomed stay of the Dutch Runner, which has been moored at the Port Hawkesbury Wharf since 2015, despite promises from past and current owners of its imminent departure.

    Malcolmson said there should be a system in place that anticipates boats being abandoned, tracks the original owners of the vessels, and recognizes the costs of inaction to the economy and environment. She said Bill C-325 also designates the Canadian Coast Guard as the responsible agency so Canadians know who to contact in these cases. Another element of the bill is fixing vessel registration, which could create a fund to get taxpayers off the hook for cleanup, disposal and removal.

    This came after Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed $5.6 million to be spent over the next five years under the federal Abandoned Boats Program, which is designed to allow federal and local governments, as well as indigenous groups, to apply for funding to assess, remove and dispose of abandoned vessels. The program, which is also open to private marinas and other organizations, will cover 100 per cent of the cost of assessments and 75 per cent of removal and disposal costs.

    An additional $1.3 million will be available through the DFO for similar work by harbour authorities seeking the removal of abandoned and derelict vessels in small craft harbours, while a further $1.25 million is to be set aside over the next five years for “education, awareness and research.”

    With the consultation phase for this initiative set to begin and the program’s final parameters to take shape by the fall, Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner expressed hoped that this new program can avoid cases like the Dutch Runner in the future.

    Cuzner noted that he remains in contact with Town of Port Hawkesbury officials about the Dutch Runner and said he is all-too-familiar with such issues in light of the protracted removal of the MV Miner off Scaterie Island.

    Essentially, the Liberal and NDP MPs are saying the same things and hoping to accomplish the same goals, even if they disagree on exactly how to meet those ends.

    Both agree that legislative action is required immediately, they both want the federal government fully invested and both want communities and groups to have all the resources they need to keep their areas clear of unwanted vessels.

    It is encouraging that these MPs, from two different political parties and from opposite ends of the country, are on the same page. Hopefully, this spirit of cooperation will allow for the bill to become law so communities can be empowered to clean up their coasts and owners can be dissuaded from turning harbours into dumping grounds.