A public notice says ship-breaking activities that contravene regional district bylaws are taking place in Union Bay.
According to the notice, Union Bay Industries had run a log sorting business until 2018 when it was sold to foreign owners, who started a ship-breaking business. It says most ship-breaking is conducted in impoverished, third world countries.
“These end-of-life vessels contain large amounts of carcinogens and toxic substances,” the notice states.
A group of residents were shocked to find that this operation was allowed in Union Bay due to its possible environmental impacts and proximity to homes. The residents worry the business poses a threat to the world renowned oysters of Baynes Sound.
“In addition to the environmental and human toll of ship-breaking, once an area is polluted, it is permanent,” the group states in an email.
They question why the province approved an amendment to the foreshore lease from a log sort to a derelict ship-anchoring area effective Oct. 15 of this year. Noting a previous ship-breaking operation on the Fraser River, residents said the Vancouver Port Authority obtained a stop work order from the BC Supreme Court as the operators did not hold a valid foreshore lease.
“So why here?” the group states.
Area A director Daniel Arbour said the Comox Valley Regional District has received numerous complaints since this operation started two years ago. While the site is zoned marine industrial, and for decades was used as a log sort, he said the community was surprised to see this type of enterprise show up.
District staff members have been working with the operator to ensure their activities comply with bylaws. If not, Arbour said the operator must pursue a temporary use permit or rezoning application.
“The province and federal government hold the key role in making sure that environmental regulations are followed, and our staff has been in communication with them,” Arbour said. “I can’t under-state that any activity around Baynes Sound should meet world-class environmental standards. The era of unconstrained economic activity is a thing of the past, and I won’t pass the buck on this. Our three levels of government, and K’omoks First Nation, need to co-ordinate and get this right, not only on this particular case but on many others as it relates to Baynes Sound.”
On Monday, a tug boat was towing the old Queen of Burnaby into Baynes Sound. Union Bay residents are concerned that the ferry, which was retired from the BC Ferries’ fleet in 2017, is full of asbestos, and is here for ship-breaking purposes.
Since 2017, the vessel has been for sale for recycling and stored mainly at a BC Ferries ship repair facility in Richmond. BC Ferries said it is evaluating proposals to recycle the ship, and expects to reach an agreement with a reputable company. In the meantime, to make room for other vessels that require service in Richmond, BC Ferries engaged a towing company to move the Queen of Burnaby by tug to a temporary moorage site this side of the water while a sale agreement is reached.
“BC Ferries is committed to protecting the environment and has an arrangement with a local company to conduct periodic inspections of the vessel,” it said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, the ship will have a generator and pumps on board should any major issue arise, and spill response equipment is nearby.”