The cleanup of derelict vessels in the Mamquam Blind Channel by the Squamish Streamkeepers Society, a volunteer environmental group, once again put the spotlight on a festering issue that has plagued West Coast communities for decades.
Jean Crowder, NDP Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan, has documented at least 200 abandoned vessels in our coastal waters. She says when it comes to government policy, “either nobody has the authority, or nobody will take the responsibility” for the mess.
Gulf Islands residents waited 10 years before an abandoned barge, once used as a McDonald’s Restaurant at Expo ’86, was hauled away. The Queen of Saanich, a decommissioned B.C. ferry on the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route, was purchased by a salvage company and moored near Anvil Island. It was vandalized and concerns were raised the vessel was not properly secured and could become a hazard to the surrounding area. The Future of Howe Sound Society puts it this way: “Abandoning a boat is like dropping a tonne of litter all at once. It’s a pollutant, a potential shipping hazard, and it’s a drain on tax dollars when it is finally noticed and cleaned up. It’s also illegal.”
If we look strictly at the letter of the law, getting rid of unsightly wrecks should be a simple process. Under the federal Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Minister of Transport can secure disposal of any vessel deemed to be abandoned provided certain procedures related to its ownership are followed. Similar provisions exist under the Canada Shipping Act.
Although legislation is in place, the bottom line, quite literally, is: What level of government will pony up the bucks to pay for the cleanup?
Administrators in Washington State are less jurisdictionally challenged. They recently cleared hundreds of nuisance vessels under the Derelict Vessel Removal Program. DVRP funding comes from private donations and surcharges placed on annual vessel registration fees.
When it comes to Canadian waters, the approach so far has been the triple-D strategy: Dodge, Delay and Delegate. The feds wait for a threat to navigation or wildlife before they will act; the province only steps in if Crown-owned foreshore land is involved; and municipal officials are left spinning their wheels. According to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, a recent study released by Transport Canada “does not reflect the breadth of information provided by B.C. local governments, including the actual number of abandoned and derelict vessels in the province.”
There is some hope on the horizon. Crowder has introduced a private member’s bill to facilitate a cleanup under the Canada Shipping Act. Meanwhile, the DOS is working with various waterfront communities and other levels of government to develop a coherent marine strategy. Where all of this will take us is anybody’s guess, but at least the bar has been raised to a higher level of awareness.