It's a problem faced by most coastal B.C. communities, but one that came to a head in Squamish this week.
The Canadian Coast Guard finished cleaning up a fuel spill in the Mamquam Blind Channel last week. A 74-foot wooden tugboat, Elf, sank on Jan. 14, resulting in a 1,500-litre diesel slick. The Elf was salvaged out of the channel, only to sink again off Point Atkinson when the Coast Guard was towing the vessel to Vancouver for inspection. While the tugboat is on the bottom of the sea, conversations regarding derelict and unmaintained liveaboards have boiled to the surface.
Steen Larsen, the Squamish resident who helped maintain the Elf, now faces a court action by Western Forest Products (WFP) to remove a 59.7-metre former U.S. Navy transport ship from its mooring alongside the former Woodfibre site.
“The vessel is not supposed to be there and they don't want it to be,” WFP's marine lawyer John Bromley said, noting that as things stand, Larsen is trespassing.
Larsen told The Chief he planned to move to the vessel he brought in from the United States. It was out of the way and offered a platform to congregate his possessions, he said noting the Blind Channel needs to be cleaned up, but in a way that's accessible for everybody.
“As a community, we should try to offer something positive — have a place for people that live on their boats,” Larsen said.
Bromley has dealt with old and derelict vessel cases throughout the province, but he said this is the first one in Howe Sound.
“It's a problem,” he said.
Liveaboard owners are expressing concern that their rights might be trampled as governments tackle the burden of poorly maintained and/or derelict vessels. Most who live on their boats pay moorage, properly deal with their waste and care about the environment, said Kris Samuels, a B.C. Nautical Residents Association director. What's hit the spotlight are social issues that have spread onto the sea, he said.
“That is a different issue altogether,” Samuels said. “It is homelessness on the water.”
It's already difficult to find moorage friendly to liveaboards, he said, adding officials need to deal with individual cases separately.
One way to bring order to the situation would be the create district mooring buoys, Samuels suggested.
“The other thing is to try and provide more facilities for these people,” Samuels said.
Squamish environmental advocate John Buchanan estimates 50 people live on vessels docked or anchored in the Blind Channel. Squamish doesn't have a facility at which boat owners can pump out their bilges, and sewage from the vessels ends up in the waterway, he said, adding there are no public showers, either.
Buchanan is concerned some of the vessels have deteriorated to a point that it's unhealthy for the person living on board.
In 2010, B.C. municipalities petitioned the provincial and federal governments to develop a coordinated, timely approach to deal with derelict and abandoned vessels. This year, the federal government released a report on the subject, but municipalities were largely left out of the conversation, said Rhona Martin, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) president.
“To be quite frank, the report was a disappointment,” she said.
A joint working group, involving the UBCM and numerous bureaucratic players, has been struck. Transport Canada is compiling an inventory of abandoned and derelict vessels, Martin added. Officials asked municipalities to send in photos of theses boats, she said, noting the federal government is examining the cost of dealing with them.
No matter what, large steps are necessary to solve the problem.
“Dealing with the issue of derelict vessels is going to require stronger political support from the upper level of government,” Martin said.