Sinking of Beaver in Bay reignites calls for new derelict vessel laws

The Coast Guard has confirmed what residents of Cowichan Bay reported Wednesday night: the SS Beaver sank into the waters off the Cowichan coast.

Dan Bate of the Coast Guard said that a lifeboat from the Canadian Coast Guard Station Ganges attended the scene after getting reports that the vessel was sinking.

"At that time the crews reported minimal hydrocarbon pollution as a result of earlier work by the owner to pump out the tanks of the vessel," said Bate.

Environmental response officials headed to the scene Thursday morning, he said, citing only "small unrecoverable patches of sheen in the area."

The boat is now sitting in 120 feet of water, Bate reported. The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the site.

Nanaimo-Cowichan Member of Parliament Jean Crowder, in response to concerns expressed by constituents, has been in contact with Transport Canada on a number of occasions over the Beaver.

In January, they said they were monitoring the situation, she reported.

The problem of derelict vessels is larger than just the Beaver, Crowder said, noting that Cowichan Bay itself was previously the mooring for the derelict Dominion 1, which took years to get towed out of the harbour.

"I want these boats dealt with," she said.

She is working on a private members bill that is up for debate in the House of Commons in the fall that she hopes will at least make things a little easier.

Part of the problem is that there are too many agencies causing confusion when it comes to the vessels.

If it is a hazard to navigation, Transport Canada will investigate, but if it is leaking fuel Environment Canada is the agency responsible.

The new bill would make the Canadian Coast Guard the go-to for all matters concerning derelict vessels.

"It is not remotely all that needs to be done," Crowder admitted. "But I can’t require the government to spend money in a private member’s bill. We thought a couple of things; first of all this starts to focus the government’s attention on the matter and it’s an avenue to have this conversation about what really needs to happen."

Derelicts are a huge problem on the West Coast, she said. An inventory done by the government, which many feel underreported the true numbers, found that there were over 200 derelict vessels off B.C.’s shores.

"It’s a big problem in Cowichan," Crowder specified. "We just saw the Beaver go down. In the past the Beaver has dragged its anchor and the Coast Guard had to come and rescue it. We’ve had two barges sink in Chemainus. We’ve had, I know, at least one sink in the Ladysmith Harbour and others have washed up on shore."

"Unless it’s clearly identified as an immediate environmental hazard or a barrier to navigation, it doesn’t get dealt with. And then we wait for a storm or something to blow up and then they have to come in and deal with it."