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Feds fund removal of more derelict boats from waters off Vancouver Island

Salish Sea Industrial Services is preparing to head north to ­Gabriola Island, where over ­several days it will use a massive crane to hoist four derelict boats out of the water and onto the deck of a 145-foot barge.
A sunken sailboat is seen near the Oak Bay Marina on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. The federal government has awarded funding to groups working to remove abandoned, beached and sunken vessels from B.C.'s waters. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Salish Sea Industrial Services is preparing to head north to ­Gabriola Island, where over ­several days it will use a massive crane to hoist four derelict boats out of the water and onto the deck of a 145-foot barge.

Those vessels will be hauled back to its home base at Point Hope Maritime on Victoria’s Upper Harbour and broken down in a containment area under hazardous-materials guidelines.

The stainless steel, batteries, hull windows, engines, wood, plastics and hydrocarbons will be recycled, and the rest — the bulk of it fibreglass — will go to the landfill.

It’s been a steady clip of work for Salish Sea Industrial Services and its barge crews, divers and sub-contractors, who have removed more than 100 dead boats over the past three years from the waters around Greater Victoria and the Gulf Islands.

A fresh round of funding from the federal government’s Ocean Protection Plan is allowing the company to reclaim another 24 abandoned, beached and sunken vessels.

Ten of those vessels have already been removed from the Cadboro Bay area as the­ company took advantage of higher winter tides to snag vessels right off the beach and from the sandy ocean bottom using its 150-tonne crawler crane.

“A lot of the work depends on conditions,” said Rob Menzies, operations manager for Salish Sea Industrial Services.

He noted Cadboro Bay has been a problem area for derelict boats for years.

“It’s a nice bay and people sometimes inherit these boats and put them on shoddy anchors. A storm comes up and they hit the beach. They don’t want to pay for it, so they walk away,” Menzies said. “Boats start to accumulate and they have to be taken care of.”

Victoria-based Dead Boats Disposal Society identifies the vessels under federal contracts and the government then ­disperses funding to companies like Salish Sea to remove them.

The company — part of the Ralmax Group in partnership with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations — has worked with local governments, maritime assessment groups and the coast guard over the years to identify and remove the vessels.

Under the latest federal ­contract, worth more than $550,000, Salish Sea Industrial Services will also remove boats around Pender and Salt Spring islands.

Almost all of the vessels are pleasure craft, Menzies said, and are in various states of disrepair. “Sometimes they’re completely sunk and a lot are left on the beach,” he said. “We see everything you can imagine. A lot of boats catch fire and sink.”

The company’s barge is 145 feet long and 45 feet wide, which allows the company to load several vessels at a time and do the breakup work in a contained area that doesn’t harm critical marine habitats.

Transport Canada said abandoned boats are a growing problem that create economic, social and environmental impacts on local communities across the country. The vessels can pollute marine environment, harm tourism and fisheries businesses, damage infrastructure and interfere with navigation.

Minister Omar Alghabra on Tuesday announced $1.7 million in funding to assess 44 boat removal projects in B.C. and Newfoundland and Labrador, and to remove 51 abandoned boats in British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

The Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act passed in July 2019 makes it illegal to abandon boats, increases vessel owner liability and strengthens the federal government’s response in cases where owners do not behave responsibly in disposing of their vessels.

However, in light of the economic impacts related to the pandemic, Ottawa is paying 100 per cent of costs for boat removal assessment projects and boat removal and disposal projects, for a maximum of $50,000 per project instead of 75 per cent as in previous years.

Several other companies received funds under the ­Abandoned Boats Program.

The Coastal Restoration Society received $327,000 to remove and dispose of 11 boats in Tofino, while We Are The Change For Humanity receieved $100,000 to deal with two boats in Alert Bay.

Two groups received money for assessments for boat removal and disposal projects in Alert Bay, Barkley Sound, Nootka Sound and Bamfield Harbour.