Two derelict boats which sunk overnight last week in Deep Bay are raising not only serious environmental concerns for nearby residents, but also for those whose livelihood depend on the nearby water.
Overnight Thursday, a 70-foot wooden tugboat named the Lorna Foss sank just outside the harbour, in a small collection of nine other derelict vessels, taking a 30-foot sailboat down with it, said Bill Veenhof, Area H director of the Regional District of Nanaimo.
He said the vessels are not controlled by any legislation other than federal once they sink.
“It’s become a nest of boats that have questionable maintenance.”
With a quick response from the Canadian Coast Guard, which was able to set up a boom around the island of now-eight vessels, Veenhof notes the response was outstanding.
While it doesn’t appear the two vessels caused a significant spill, a third boat – a tugboat – is heavily listing and is “of huge concern for us.”
“I assume that the tugboat is in some way attached to the boats that sank and the weight of the boats are pulling the tugboat over.”
Previous Lorna Foss owner Dan Grinstead of Seattle, a former chief engineer and now contractor for Foss Maritime, says he sold the vessel to a Bowser resident in September 2013.
Grinstead notes the boat was built in 1903, and was used to tow logs.
The third vessel is causing serious concern for Keith Reid, owner of Odyssey Shellfish in Bowser, who has a shellfish lease not far from where the derelict boats are located.
“The worst thing you can do is get a call from one of your guys at seven in the morning saying ‘I think there’s a problem down here.’ Two boats have sunk, and we’re not sure about the third one that’s listing over really bad.”
Reid admits there isn’t a lot he can do but watch and wait. He has been told by Environment Canada that if something happens with the second tug, the lease would be shut down for one year because they don’t know what is on the boat.
“Until Environment Canada can get a handle on what is there, they maintain they would need a year to do water quality sampling, and the vast range of tests that would be required in order to ensure this place is safe for growing shellfish.”
If the boat sinks or leaks, it would be the second blow to Reid’s business in less than a year. Last August, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a food recall warning for raw oysters.
Shellfish producers were temporarily unable to ship their product into the Canadian marketplace due to possible contamination of vibrio parahaemolyticus, a toxin-producing bacteria found naturally in water, fish and shellfish.
The contamination from the listing tug could prove to be even more detrimental to his business.
“What business?” he notes with a laugh when asked what the impact could be. He says there are 40 full-time staff members who work at the lease, and another 15-20 jobs in his other leases surrounding the area.
“The coast guard has moved something like 8,000 litres of stuff off of it previously. It’s very frustrating that it doesn’t seem like nothing can be done about these large vessels that are just structures really, they’re not boats, (they) never move.”
Reid says often the vessels are purchased and towed into Deep Bay.
“Often, they’re just sold – sometimes for a dollar – because someone thinks they’re going to live on it, and build a great home on it. But as you can see, where they are, the large boat really needs to go to a wrecking yard.”
Last week, a derelict vessel sitting on the shores at Goose Spit in Comox raised the issue of federal legislation.
Currently, if a derelict vessel is considered a navigation hazard, the boat falls under the responsibility of the coast guard.
If it is an environmental hazard, it falls under the guidance of the Ministry of Environment, and if it lands on foreshore, it becomes a provincial or local government issue.
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns told media the issue of derelict vessels impacts all coastal areas of the country, and noted Bill C-638 offers federal leadership on abandoned boats and includes a comprehensive strategy which includes coastal communities.
He said the bill would make the coast guard a “one-stop shop” for derelict vessels, so that people would have one number to call.
The coast guard would then be able to talk with various agencies that are needed to take control over the situation as to where it lies and its impact.
The bill was reintroduced by Shelia Malcolmson, MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, as Bill C-219, and will take some time to work through the process. It was previously stopped by the Conservative government and defeated (as Bill C-638).
Veenhof says local government, the harbour authority and the BC Shellfish Growers’ Association have been advocating for some time to develop legislation that has some ability to deal with derelict vessels.
For now, he notes the coast guard will most likely be doing an assessment to see if there is concern for a further leak, or whether to leave the sunken boats where they are, or to clean them up.
“There’s the immediate consequence to individuals and the families – the loss of jobs – but it’s a ricochet consequence of the local populous here. (A leak) would be devastating. It would be absolutely devastating.”