Editorial: Pollution time bombs

Editorial

Tuesday, May 31 2016

Two very different stories of derelict vessels this past week. 

The first, a victory of sorts for MP Sheila Malcolmson, who has been involved in derelict vessel legislation and lobbying for over a decade.

The Viki Lyne II, a sinking abandoned vessel that was towed into Ladysmith Harbour by the federal government in 2012, will be removed this summer.

That’s right - the ship will be removed by the summer of 2016. This is the same ship which a 2012 Canadian Coast Guard survey said was a significant, imminent and ever-increasing threat to the environment and recommended that it be removed and responsibly disassembled.

Four years.

Malcolmson has legislation proposed to be debated in Parliament for a comprehensive solution to derelict vessels.

The second story was the sinking of another tug off Gabriola’s western bluffs. The second since 2014.

And just as likely be be left 400 feet down with any remaining fuel and other pollutants on board.

David Mailloux from the Nanaimo Port Authority was not able to say how many vessels are currently sitting down in the waters of the NPA’s area of jurisdiction. Not that someone doesn’t have that number - Mailloux said he just didn’t have the number handy when the Sounder asked for it.

In all likelihood, someone within the NPA or Fisheries has some idea of where most of the larger vessels are under the water. No one may know all of the smaller wrecks. Certainly not all of the ones underwater throughout the Gulf Islands.

Take a drive past Degnen Bay at high tide - look for masts sticking up from the water. 

Go back at low tide, see the rest of the boat.

Typically, no one moves a derelict vessel unless it poses a significant hazard to marine traffic - or is deemed a significant environmental risk. If the Viki Lyne II is any example to go by, even if it’s an environmental risk, the powers-that-be can take four years to make something happen.

That’s for the derelict vessels above water.

For the ones under water, so long as no one sees any visible environmental problems, the vessel is left on the sea floor.

Just one more pollution time bomb waiting to go off when containment tanks finally break free.

Further up the coast, there are still 16 cars sitting on the Queen of the North, with tanks still full of gas and engines full of oil. Plus the 220,000 litres of diesel and 23,000 litres of lubricating oil the ship had on board when she went down.

The companies leaving the ships down there are doing the math. Their job is to answer to the bottom line. They won’t change their ways until forced to. 

It is up to the government to step up and require them to properly dispose of a vessel - regardless of where said vessel ends up - so that the health of our marine environment is maintained above, and below, the surface.

We worry about oil tankers, about the big spills, the next Exxon Valdez. Rightfully so - a single tanker spill would be a disaster.

We in the Gulf Islands should also be worrying about all the little spills which are happening, and which are waiting to happen, out of sight, and apparently out of mind.