The MV Dutch Runner: Gone but not forgotten

After a three-year stay on the Port Hawkesbury waterfront, a well-known vessel finally departed last month.

The MV Dutch Runner left the Strait of Canso Superport Corporation (SCSC) Pier in Port Hawkesbury on August 18.

The ship originally docked in October of 2015 en route to Souris, PEI, but never undocked. Since then, the company in ownership of the Dutch Runner has been preparing the ship for its transfer from Canadian to Panamanian flags.

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Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton noted that the Dutch Runner required a series of repairs to make it seaworthy again, but every time the owners would reach an end date, “things would always come up,” turning this stay “into a drawn-out process.”

The first issue that arose surrounded crew members assigned to maintain and supervise the Dutch Runner while it was docked. There were difficulties assembling the nine-member crew required to be present during a craft inspection conducted by officials from Panama, the Dutch Runner’s eventual destination.

Five South American crew members then abruptly left the ship in November 2016, filing complaints with Transport Canada of unfit living and working conditions and not receiving payment from the owners.

In the meantime, Alco International Trading Corp., the ownership group behind the Dutch Runner, continuously gave the false impression the cargo ship’s departure was imminent.

SCSC CEO Tim Gilfoy said the Dutch Runner was a client of theirs looking for a berthing place for their vessel which they provided for the past three years. He did acknowledge that “they stayed a little longer than they had hoped,” but “they were a good paying client to have tied up to our facility.”

Some residents, politicians and others were unhappy with the prolonged stay, but as Gilfoy noted, the SCSC owns and operates the Port Hawkesbury Pier and part of that process is having paying clients tied up at the facility.

In respect to the rusted and dilapidated condition of the vessel, Gilfoy said that was a Transport Canada issue and the SCSC maintained contact with the owners to ensure there wasn’t a problem with the ship’s condition.

Chisholm-Beaton said the ship became an unwelcome backdrop to a lot of events hosted in the area such as the Granville Green concert series, last year’s Tall Ship visit, and the Festival of the Strait.

The mayor agreed with Gilfoy that the “Port Hawkesbury and Mulgrave wharfs are working environments as well as attractions to tourists,” but admitted there is a group of people within the Strait area glad to see the Dutch Runner gone.

Recently, Port Hawkesbury Town Council, as well as different community groups in the Strait area, came together to establish a waterfront development committee for the town and will begin hosting a series of meetings this fall.

With the departure of the Dutch Runner, that group now has options previously unavailable. Even for that reason alone, this news was welcome.

It is true that as a working port, Port Hawkesbury and Mulgrave will inevitably host vessels for prolonged periods of time.

The problem with the Dutch Runner was that it appeared the original plan of the owner was to dock in Port Hawkesbury for as long as possible.

And while the Dutch Runner sat at the wharf in Port Hawkesbury, it did not appear the owners were in a rush to expedite its departure. They mistreated the crew and did not pay them, they allowed the boat to rust and go through periods with no running water or power, and generally misled the public they were departing imminently when they clearly knew otherwise.

A strong case can be made that this was the plan of the owners all along, and as long as they kept paying their fees to the SCSC and told the public what they wanted to hear, they could continue blighting the coastal scenery of Port Hawkesbury.

This case demonstrates the need for restrictions in the Strait of Canso, as there are in any working ports. There is a middle ground, and that was not achieved in this case.

The boat was docked for too long, its condition was unacceptable and its owners were unaccountable to the crew and the public.

Those seem like reasonable grounds to ask the Dutch Runner to shove-off. If not, other vessels and other owners will be emboldened to believe the Strait of Canso can be used as a dumping ground to pawn off unwanted vessels and mistreat their crews.

The prolonged stay of the Dutch Runner may have established a dangerous precedent that local officials would be wise to avoid before another vessel owner gets the same idea.