New law will make it illegal to abandon derelict boats

After rocking the boat for years trying to rid local waters of derelict boats, Eric Dahli was understandably excited about legislation introduced Monday in the House of Commons to deal with the issue.

“Yeah! This is excellent news,” said the chairman of the Cadboro Bay Residents Association after learning about Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s new Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act.

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The proposed legislation makes it illegal to abandon vessels in Canadian harbours and waterways.

It’s unclear how many abandoned vessels are in Canadian waters, with estimates ranging from hundreds to thousands.

Owners who abandon their boats are currently not subject to any penalties. Some see dumping as the cheapest, easiest route when a boat is no longer operational, Garneau said.

Under the proposed law, individuals who abandon a boat can face fines up to $300,000 and a six-month jail term, while corporations can be fined as much as $6 million.

Abandoned boats are an environmental hazard, sometimes sitting for years in harbours or abandoned along coast lines with fuel still in their tanks.

The legislation brings into Canadian law the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, a 10-year-old international agreement that establishes uniform rules for removing abandoned and derelict vessels from international waters.

“It’s a mess, and I’m pleased the federal government is finally doing something about it,” said Dahli, who co-founded Dead Boats Society with John Roe of Veins of Life Watershed Society to do their own cleanups.

“We just got rid of the six boats [on the Oak Bay side] of the beach in Cadboro Bay,” he said. He was referring to their volunteer-driven cleanup effort on Oct. 14, when the last of the boats on the beach near Gyro Park were removed with financial assistance from the province and Oak Bay.

The community cleanup was sparked by the discovery of two garbage-filled derelict boats that were leaking diesel after being washed ashore last year.

Dahli said their plan is to collaborate with the Maritime Residents Association and the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, and to contact the Canadian Coast Guard, to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

“What we discovered, much to our chagrin and downright surprise, was that if the coast guard finds a vessel floating in Haro Strait they’ll take it into Cadboro Bay and tie it up to a vacant dock,” Dahli said.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen said while he’s pleased with the federal legislation, there are two big questions that remain. “Will it apply to smaller vessels that really plague Oak Bay, the CRD and all the island communities?” he asked.

“And will legislation come with funding to allow us to do the job? With those two provisos, I’m pleased, but the devil is in the details and to this stage we haven’t seen those details. I look forward to receiving them.”

Canada would require owners of large commercial vessels to carry insurance to cover the potential cost of disposal.

Garneau acknowledged that while the bill gives the government new powers to force owners of derelict vessels to remove them safely, there will be no fines or penalties imposed on the owner of a boat that has already been abandoned.

The ownership of some of them can’t even be determined, he said, which is why Canada is working with the provinces and territories to establish better rules for identifying boats. The government plans to establish an inventory of existing derelicts with the goal of removing them all.

After 15 years of urging federal governments to do something, it’s nice to see some action, said Island NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson, whose hometown is Ladysmith. “This is absolutely a breakthrough for coastal communities.”

An abandoned vessel sank in Ladysmith Harbour Oct. 21, spewing oil and fuel into the water. The coast guard contained the leaks. But the federal government identified the vessel as a risk three years ago, and it would have been easier and cheaper to remove it before it sank, she said.

— With The Canadian Press

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