Cleaning Canada’s waters one wreck at a time

Along Canada’s 3 coastlines and in freshwater lakes and rivers, sit thousands of abandoned, dilapidated, hazardous and wrecked vessels, referred to as vessels of concern.

They come in all shapes and sizes: large commercial ships, small pleasure craft, barges and fishing boats. However, they all have one thing in common: they are rotting. In some cases, they have even become a serious environmental hazard.

Some vessels have been submerged, semi-submerged or run aground for decades.

The initial task to remove the vessels is a major undertaking. That’s why the Marine Navigation and Remediation Division at Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is helping Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard with their efforts. PSPC’s role is to contract companies to assess and dispose of the vessels and wrecks.

Some of these vessels have been dumped because they don’t work anymore, some have been abandoned because they aren’t sellable and the owner can’t afford to keep them afloat, and some are no longer useable as pleasure craft for paying customers.

Erin Fox, the division’s National Procurement Strategy lead, has been working with her team to build a list of pre-qualified vendors for vessel removal and disposal, separate arrangements based on the size of the vessel.

“The vast majority of vessels we are dealing with are smaller and made of fibre glass,” said Erin. “Larger vessels made of steel are a different challenge. For example, you need a decent-sized dock to accommodate them, and they are disposed of following international rules.”

An abandonned vessel of concern

Heavy fines

PSPC leads the national procurement effort to remove and dispose of abandonned vessels. Along with our partners, we are working towards implementing the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, passed by Parliament in 2019, with the aim of protecting coastal and shoreline communities, the environment and infrastructure from abandoned, dilapidated and wrecked vessels.

The act is part of the Government of Canada’s $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, which aims to protect Canada’s waterways and marine ecosystem.

Transport Canada is working to tighten and coordinate licensing and registration regulations, which will impose responsibilities on boat owners similar to those required of car owners. Removing and disposing of these vessels can be expensive, and these stricter requirements will make it easier to trace owners of vessels of concern and have them pay the bill for removal and disposal, a cost borne by taxpayers when owners can’t be located.

In many cases, owners can’t be identified, and when they can be identified, they can’t be found. In some cases, citizens of the United States, who face stiff fines for vessel dumping, are known to cross the border to abandon their vessels of concern in Canadian waters.

In Canada, vessel owners face fines of $5,000 to $25,000 for minor violations. For more serious violations, the maximum penalty is from $50,000 to $250,000. In exceptional cases, typically involving larger ships, fines range from $1 million to $6 million.

Under the Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, all owners of vessels about the size of a luxury yacht are required to carry adequate insurance or other financial security to cover potential costs of wreck removal.

Variety of requirements

Crucial to the clean-up effort is initially removing hazardous chemicals, such as oil, grease and gas, then recycling materials like steel and arranging for the responsible disposal of what can’t be recycled.

The Canadian Coast Guard is developing a national inventory of vessels of concern. Each identified vessel is assessed and graded, primarily according to its potential environmental damage and risk to public safety.

Currently, most of these vessels are in coastal waters, and about 60% of those are off the West Coast. No one doubts that there are many more in waterways across the country yet to be found.

The procurement aspect involves a wide-range of responsibilities, including the regional and local contracting of diving experts, ship hull inspectors, maritime towing specialists and disposal companies. Some vessels are relatively easy to deal with and simply need to be hauled out of the water and disposed of. This work is already underway in some areas.

Many vessels of concern are either located on Indigenous territory or have an adverse impact on Indigenous communities. As a result, there’s an emphasis on hiring qualified Indigenous firms to support this work. The Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels project offers Indigenous businesses an opportunity to win Government of Canada contracts and play a significant role in the clean-up of Canadian waters.

For more information, visit the National Shipbuilding Strategy web page.

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