New federal act and partnerships can keep waters free of wrecked, abandoned or hazardous vessels

Late last month, the Government of Canada introduced the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act which prohibits vessel abandonment, and adopts into Canadian law the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007.

According to the Government of Canada, not complying with the act can result in a fine of up to $50,000 for individuals and up to $250,000 for companies or corporations. Convictions of more serious offences could result in a maximum fine of $1 million for individuals and up to $6 million for companies or corporations.

Simon Rivet, senior advisor in media relations with Transport Canada told The Reporter the intent of the new act is to promote owner responsibility by prohibiting irresponsible behaviour. The act introduces a penalties regime intended to promote compliance, for example, there are penalties for abandoning a vessel under the act. Because this deterrent did not exist in the past, Rivet explained it allowed owners to “simply walk away.”

In addition to new enforcement powers with sanctions, the federal government wants to provide public outreach and education by engaging directly with vessel owners and operators.

Other measures under development within the national strategy include improving vessel owner identification, creating a national inventory of problem vessels and developing a risk assessment methodology to prioritize response, and establishing a polluter pays approach for vessel clean-up through creation of an owner-financed long-term fund.

To monitor the thousands of kilometers of coastline, Rivet said the Canadian Coast Guard is developing a national inventory of wrecked, abandoned and hazardous vessels, as well as a risk assessment methodology to understand the extent of the issue and to prioritize response toward the highest-risk vessels.

While the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada are working to monitor these vessels in Canadian waters, the federal government will rely on regional and local partners, as well as individuals, to report these vessels. Rivet said this means anyone who finds a wrecked, abandoned or hazardous vessel can report it directly to the Coast Guard.

Rivet added that the legislation is designed to encourage cooperation among various federal departments. For example, the Coast Guard can consult with Transport Canada or Environment and Climate Change Canada whether a vessel poses a hazard. Similarly, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada can rely on community partners to report vessels to the Coast Guard to be tracked and assessed.

As part of the National Strategy to Address Canada’s Wrecked and Abandoned Vessels, the federal government launched two short-term funding programs in 2017 to support eligible recipients in removing and disposing of high-priority vessels: Transport Canada’s Abandoned Boats Program, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Abandoned and Wrecked Vessels Removal Program.

Transport Canada’s Abandoned Boats Program is investing $6.85 million for abandoned boat assessment, removal and disposal, and for research and education initiatives. Since May 31, 2017, funding has been approved to assess 102 boats for a total of $342,560, and to remove 78 boats for a total of $1,796,038.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Abandoned and Wrecked Vessels Removal Program is providing up to $1.325 million over five years to harbour authorities and other eligible recipients to remove and dispose of abandoned and wrecked vessels located in federal small craft harbours. To date, 23 vessels have been removed and disposed of across the country, and funding has been awarded to gain legal possession which could lead to the removal of an additional eight vessels, under the program.

These programs, and the new legislation, are proof of what can be accomplished, even by vast federal government departments, when there are common goals, a concise plan and clear policies on how to intercommunicate and cooperate.

It is also encouraging that residents will now have one place to report abandoned, hazardous or wrecked vessels, and that the Canadian Coast Guard has partners with which to work with to deal with these issues.

Without legislation and partnerships, there will be more rusted, dilapidated vessels blighting the local scenery and damaging the Strait area environment.

Now, there appears to be light at the end of this tunnel.