Workers from Cowichan Bay’s Pacific Industrial & Marine were on the water rescuing another two empty boats during the latest wind and rain storm on Jan. 3.
Brian Thacker, who owns the company that specializes in all aspects of marine and bridge construction, said his crews have rescued approximately 20 such vessels from Cowichan Bay over the last two years.
“It seems I have to send out guys all the time after storms come through,” he said. “It’s really getting to be an issue for us. We have called the Coast Guard, but have been told that they only deal with ‘life and limb’ cases where people’s lives or safety is at risk. So we end up dealing with many of these boats and nobody covers our costs.”
Thacker said there are no penalties in place to hold boat owners accountable for their vessels.
“Anybody can put any kind of vessel out there and just walk away,” he said. “I’d like to see the Cowichan Valley Regional District have some way to regulate how boats are anchored in Cowichan Bay. Maybe a controlled anchorage can be placed here where boats would be properly inspected and looked after.”
But Lori Iannidinardo, the director for Cowichan Bay in the CVRD, said the district has no authority to deal with the problem.
She said issues in the bay are the federal government’s jurisdiction.
“(Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP) Sheila Malcolmson and (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP) Alistair MacGregor know our dilemma with derelict and abandoned boats here and are working hard to try to do something about it,” Iannidinardo said.
“But while the east coast seems to get money to deal with derelict vessels, the west coast is largely ignored. If the federal government is serious about this issue, they will put more money towards it.”
A statement from Canadian Coast Guard on the issue acknowledges that abandoned vessels are a concern, and the federal government is working on new legislation to address abandoned or hazardous vessels and wrecks in Canadian waters.
The Coast Guard statement said boat owners are responsible for securing their vessels and reminds them to check their lines and regularly check the weather forecast for conditions that may affect their boats.
“In addition, the Coast Guard is working with owners and others to secure vessels and structures that pose a threat to the environment, such as leaking hydrocarbons,” the statement said. “This work is being carried out on a priority basis.”
Last month, the federal government announced that approximately $400,000 from its new $6.85-million Abandoned Boat Program, announced last year, had been earmarked to remove 17 derelict boats in the Saltspring Island area.
Last March, the government also announced that $1.3 million from the program was being earmarked to remove derelict boats from areas in B.C. and Newfoundland and Labrador, including funding to remove seven vessels from Ladysmith Harbour.
But, to date, none of the funding from the program has been used to remove derelict or abandoned vessels in Cowichan Bay.
“Abandoned and wrecked boats pollute the marine environment and negatively affect tourism, fisheries, local infrastructure and navigation,” Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said in an interview last month.
“They are a source of frustration for many shoreline communities. Some vessel owners see abandonment as a low-cost, low-risk option. This has to stop.”
Garneau acknowledged that the federal government is expected to soon table its proposed Bill C-64, the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, that would make abandoning a vessel illegal, with financial and other consequences for their owners.
Alistair MacGregor, the NDP MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment, but he said last June when the Abandoned Boat Program was first announced that the program’s funding was inadequate.
“Does the government realistically believe that just $6.85 million is enough funding for the program to cover the longest coastline in the world?” he asked at the time.