MP Gord Johns

UPDATE: Federal Fisheries and Oceans minister says vessel ‘beyond repair’

Minister Hunter Tootoo says unstable boat will be removed from Deep Bay; MP Gord Johns encouraged by minister's response

On Friday, April 8, Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo e-mailed this statement to The PQB News:

“On Saturday, April 2, the Canadian Coast Guard responded to the pollution threat posed by the Silver King and began pumping water from the vessel. Our Coast Guard Environmental Response team has now concluded that the vessel is not sea worthy and beyond repair. Therefore, it will be towed to a yard to be deconstructed.

“Before deconstruction takes place, the vessel will be thoroughly cleaned for safety reasons and to further reduce the risk of pollution. Hazardous materials such as asbestos, fuel and bilge water, as well as other potential pollutants will be removed.

“I appreciate the diligent work of those involved in this operation and hope that the community of Deep Bay and surrounding area is assured that we take ship borne threats to the environment very seriously and we act immediately in the event of a pollution threat.”

MP Gord Johns (NDP, Courtenay-Alberni) responded:

“I am very encouraged by today’s announcement from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans that the vessel known as the Silver King will be safely removed from Deep Bay in the coming days. This is what we can accomplish by coming together and working in the best interest of Vancouver Islanders.

“Thanks must to go everyone who added their voices to the call for action, especially Bill Veenhof, Chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo, Chief Michael Recalma of the Qualicum First Nation, local business leaders and staff from Vancouver Island University, as well as local media who have doggedly pursued this issue for years.

“We are grateful our voices have been heard by the federal government and that action is being taken, but we acknowledge that is only one example of a much larger problem threatening the environment and economy of our local communities.

“Questions remain regarding the other abandoned vessels in Deep Bay, those above water and those below. Additionally we must continue to push for an overhaul of the rules and regulations surrounding abandoned and derelict vessel to ensure the long term safety of our coastal communities. I will continue to bring local concerns directly to the attention of the government and champion issues that are important to the people of Courtenay-Alberni.”

RDN chair Bill Veenhoff responded:

I am exceptionally pleased that Hunter Tootoo, The Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Transport announced today that The Silver King will be removed from Deep Bay and subsequently destroyed.

This is a very positive action that will do a great deal to protect our sensitive environment and our shellfish industry.

I would like to thank Gord Johns, whose interest and supportive engagement was an immense help in resolving this.

I think it important to underscore that the news media should be justifiably proud of their efforts keeping this issue front and center.

We have learned a great deal through this process and I am looking forward to continuing the dialogue with our federal and provincial partners on the this very important and challenging B.C. wide problem.

Original story (posted April 5):

A nor’easter expected this weekend could sink a listing, abandoned 100-foot tugboat in Deep Bay, taking with it 60 full-time shellfish industry jobs and fouling a “pristine” part of the coast.

MP Gord Johns toured the scene on Tuesday with local politicians, industry representatives and the media.

“Going out there on the boat, seeing the Silver King ready to go down, the sense of urgency is even higher,” said Johns, (NDP, Courtenay-Alberni). “It’s on the verge at being at the bottom of the ocean.”

It’s unclear how much fuel and/or oil is on the 100-foot Silver King. On Wednesday there were reports the tug was eight feet lower in the water than it was 48 hours earlier. The Canadian Coast Guard continues to attend to the scene.

What is clear, according to Stellar Bay Shellfish company owner Keith Reid, is what happens if the tug sinks. Stellar Bay employs 40 people and has 30 acres of oyster beds, along with a processing plant, within 200 metres of the sinking boat.

“The whole thing, the whole operation, every job is at risk,” said Reid. “Shellfish need clean water. If this water is contaminated, Environment Canada has no choice, through public health, to come in and put a closure on this area. And it’s very easy to close, but very difficult to re-open.”

Johns said he sent “an urgent letter” about the situation to federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo on Monday night. He said Tuesday he was going to make contact with Tootoo again.

“I will be making a phone call today, asking for them to deal with this immediately,” Johns said after touring the area on a Stellar Bay punt. “We have a storm coming Saturday, we can’t wait.”

Tootoo’s staff sent a statement from the minister just before The NEWS’ print deadline on Wednesday. It did not seem to indicate any further help or money beyond the efforts of the coast guard was on the way to Deep Bay any time soon.

“I fully appreciate the concerns expressed by the member for Courtenay-Alberni over the issues posed by the derelict vessels in Deep Bay,” read Tootoo’s statement sent by e-mail from a ministry staffer. “The Canadian Coast Guard reacted quickly last week and is monitoring the situation very closely. The coast guard stands ready to act in the event of a spill or other shipborne threat to the environment. The coast guard takes action on abandoned vessels where there is an imminent threat to the marine environment. We work with federal and local partners to hold derelict vessel owners accountable to the fullest extent of the law.  As minister responsible for the coast guard, I want to again assure the community that the Coast Guard Environmental Response team will continue to monitor the area and will act immediately in the event of a pollution threat. We will continue to work collaboratively with our federal, provincial, local and aboriginal partners to protect the marine environment.”

Two derelict boats — part of the cluster that includes the Silver King — sunk on Friday. The Canadian Coast Guard responded quickly by placing a boom around the cluster of boats, sending officers from French Creek aboard the Cape Cockburn. The coast guard was back at the scene Saturday — only 100 metres offshore from Vancouver Island University’s Marine Field Station.

Now the concern is about the Silver King, the biggest vessel of the cluster.

“The plan the way it is now is these boats are going to end up on the bottom of the ocean and that’s not a plan,” said Johns. “We need a plan.”

Reid said these derelict boats and others in Deep Bay have been a threat to his business for years, despite bringing the issue to the attention of the former federal government.

“Every day we go out to the farm and we go by this threat to our business,” said Reid. “It’s so big, there’s almost nothing we can do. We’re almost helpless — what do you do with a boat like that? We’ve been through this (informing the government and media) a number of times and nothing has changed, but in order to be in this business you have to be an optimist. If we can keep this in the public eye enough, that’s going to effect change.”

Qualicum First Nations Chief Michael Recalma also went on the tour Tuesday. He said a number of his members work at Stellar Bay.

Work at Vancouver Island University’s $9 million Deep Bay Marine Research Station is also at risk because of the derelict vessels. There are currently thousands of baby geoducks and oysters in the water only metres from the cluster of abandoned vessels.

“What’s at risk is how contamination might affect the growth of these things we are trying to study,” said Stephanie Richards, the Marine Station’s facility co-ordinator. “One of the reasons we are here is it’s such a pristine area, it’s a prime shellfish growing area, which is why we chose to do our research here.”

MP Johns said he will bring the issue to the oceans committee of the House of Commons and to the multi-party environmental caucus.

Through a private members’ bill, MP Sheila Malcolmson (NDP — Nanaimo-Ladysmith) has been trying to get both the former Conservative and current Liberal governments to fund the coast guard for these salvage operations.

“For too long, responsibility for abandoned vessels and the risks they represent has been shuffled from one government department to the next, with no senior government taking responsibility,” Malcolmson said in the House of Commons in February. “This bill continues the work done by former MP Jean Crowder so we can finally get to work dealing with these vessels and protecting our harbours and waterways from contamination and debris.”

The NDP bill — seconded by Johns — would designate the coast guard as the receiver of wrecks and give them a free hand to take action. It would also compel government to create stronger regulations for the safe removal or destruction of abandoned and derelict vessels.

Washington State has a fee attached to boating licences that basically funds salvage operations. The state’s Derelict Vessels Recovery Program has pulled 580 abandoned boats out of the water since 2002.

Former Conservaive MP John Duncan (Comox) favoured the Washington State model. Johns said Tuesday he wouldn’t be opposed to looking at that model for B.C., along with Malcolmson’s private member’s bill, which Johns said won’t likely get to the House for a vote for more than two years.

Veenhof and others in Deep Bay on Tuesday said they would just like those boats out of the marina area and away from the shellfish operations.

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