Three times since 2008, derelict boats have sunk in shallow waters near local communities, spilling fuel and spoiling surrounding areas.
Most accounts say the 2008 sinking of the tug La Lumiere off Britannia Beach was met with an acceptable response from the Coast Guard, which took charge and initiated a cleanup of the 500 litres of fuel that spilled.
In two more recent incidents, though — the sinking of the retired Coast Guard cutter Ready off Britannia in 2011 and the March 2013 sinking of a 60-foot steel landing craft in the Mamquam Blind Channel — the response has been inadequate. In both cases, significantly less fuel spilled. In both cases, the Coast Guard assessed the situation and determined either that the environmental harm was minimal (in the case of the Ready) or that the vessel’s owner had already taken whatever action was most prudent.
The problem lies in the confusing and overlapping jurisdictions at play here. The Coast Guard is only responsible for assessing and initiating the cleanup of oil spills; the provincial Ministry of Natural Resource Operations may remove abandoned vessels, but it’s Transport Canada’s responsibility to make that determination. The two key factors in that decision are whether the vessel poses an environmental threat or is a hazard to navigation.
More needs to be done to expedite the removal of vessels before they sink and release toxic elements into the environment. The Ready, for instance, may have leaked “only” six litres of fuel but there were all manner of other contaminants on board, including drugs used for first aid purposes. What’s more, in a confined area such as the Blind Channel, a few litres of fuel can cause significant environmental harm.
Squamish isn’t alone here. In February, the Union of B.C. Municipalities adopted a resolution petitioning the provincial and federal governments “to develop a coordinated approach to the timely and adequate removal of all types of derelict or abandoned vessels, barges and docks.”
UBCM, though, has been seeking a similar resolution to the problem since 2005; the province says it has been talking to the Feds since 2009. We believe local governments also have a role to play, as they’re most directly affected, but their involvement would require a source of funding to help enforce the new measures put in place.
It’s high time all levels of government got off the merry-go-round of discussion and put some words into action.
— David Burke