Officials in the Cowichan Valley are encouraged with new efforts by the federal government to deal with abandoned and derelict vessels.
But some say the new Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act that was introduced in the House of Commons by the Liberal government on Oct. 30 still requires some tweaking.
Among other initiatives, for the first time the new act would make it illegal to abandon boats in Canada’s harbours and waterways.
Those who don’t comply will face a hefty fine of up to $300,000 and a six-month jail term for individuals, and up to $6 million for companies.
The act, which is part of the federal government’s Oceans Protections Plan, will also force owners of abandoned boats to remove and dispose of them safely, but new fines will not be applicable to existing derelicts.
Lori Iannidinardo, the director for Cowichan Bay for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, has worked on the issue of derelict boats for some time.
With many boats abandoned over the years in Cowichan Bay, Iannidinardo has been invited by Transport Canada to be part of a stakeholders committee to review the new act and offer recommendations.
She said she believes the federal government is finally “on track” with the new act, but a major concern for her is that the act seems to focus more on big commercial ships and not enough on pleasure craft, which is more of a problem on B.C.’s coasts.
She said she would also advocate to have a program established in which people can recycle their old boats.
“I would like to see us follow the example of the State of Washington, which has an excellent model for dealing with these vessels,” Iannidinardo said.
“Washington has set up an inventory of boats in their waters so they can follow them and bill their owners in cases where they are abandoned.”
The government’s announcement of the new act comes weeks ahead of scheduled debate on a bill, introduced by Sheila Malcolmson, NDP MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, which would force the government to implement a comprehensive solution to clean up the thousands of abandoned vessels polluting Canada’s coasts.
She said the NDP is encouraged that the government has finally bowed to the pressure of coastal communities and will introduce legislation to deal with derelict vessels.
“Although with the Liberals, it’s often style over substance,” Malcolmson cautioned.
“We will review the legislation and ensure it lives up to expectations of coastal communities and that it offers real solutions.”
Malcolmson said that last week, another vessel sank and leaked fuel in Ladysmith Harbour while Transport Canada knew of the vessel’s risk, but failed to take any action before the sinking and resulting oil spill.
It cost more than $1 million last year to remove the derelict Viki Lyne II from Ladysmith’s harbour.
“The NDP has long called for a coast-wide strategy that would deal with abandoned vessels before they become a major source of oil spills, pollution and marine debris,” Malcolmson said.
Alistair MacGregor, NDP MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, said he’s pleased that the government has finally introduced legislation that the NDP has been requesting for some time.
“My initial opinion is that this legislation will finally enhance federal powers to dispose of these derelict and abandoned boats,” he said.
“Owners will now face financial penalties and the legislation will add more federal powers to act upon when circumstances require it. It looks good, but I also think the new legislation will require a far more thorough analysis to determine if it meets the requirements.”
While introducing the act in the House of Commons, Marc Garneau, the federal Minister of Transport, said holding vessel owners accountable for their actions is an important step in ensuring Canadians are not burdened by the effects of wrecked and abandoned vessels, nor responsible for their clean-up costs.
“This is an important stage in addressing abandoned and wrecked vessels,” he said.
“This will give the shore back to the communities and protect our coasts and the quality of our water. The Government of Canada is committed to demonstrating that a clean environment and a strong economy can go hand-in-hand.”