Progressive Conservative MP John Weston (West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast- Sea to Sky Country) tabled a bill in the House of Commons June 17 to deal with the issue of abandoned vessels.
His plan calls for stiff fines and an expedited process for authorizing salvage companies to get rid of abandoned vessels.
“All levels of government share overlapping interest in the problem,” he said in a media release.
“A comprehensive solution requires cooperation and communication among leaders committed to stem the tide of abandoned vessels.
Imposing personal responsibility on vessel owners is a good start, he added, referring to his call for fines of up to $100,000 and jail terms of up to a year for owners who abandon vessels in BC harbours.
“I look forward to more public input, now that people can see this formal proposal.”
Weston’s Bill C-695 also recommends changes to the Canada Shipping Act that would allow a vessel to be ‘deemed abandoned’ if it has been left anchored or moored in the same area more than 30 days ‘without authorization or without any surveillance or monitoring.’
Vessels could also be declared abandoned if: they are in danger of sinking or breaking up; are obstructing a waterway; or pose a ‘serious and imminent danger to human health or safety, the environment or property.’
Once declared abandoned a vessel would be subject to sale for salvage by the Minister of Transport. “The Minister may sell a vessel that is deemed abandoned and may, by bill of sale, give the purchaser a valid title to it free from any mortgage or other claim on the vessel that exists at the time of sale.”
Would Weston’s bill give government agencies the power they need to remove and dispose of vessels like the Viki Lynn II, a known hazard, in danger of sinking in Ladysmith Harbour, damaging the region’s shellfish industry, tourism and maritime lifestyle?
Nanaimo Cowichan MP Jean Crowder, whose recently rejected private members bill on the issue took a different tack, says no, for two reasons.
Relying on private salvagers to dispose of hulks like the Viki Lynn II won’t work, because there isn’t enough salvageable materials on the vessels to offset the tremendous environmental costs and risks their new owners would become liable for as soon as they took possession of the boats.
“There are already salvage provisions in international law. If this were a great business proposition, you wouldn’t have these abandoned vessels, you would have people stepping up to salvage them,” Crowder said.
As for fines, many of the boat owners are not easily identifiable or live outside the country, and can’t be brought to account. And a fine doesn’t do anything to prevent a boat from sinking and fouling a harbour, she said.
If we’re looking for a solution, Crowder suggests we turn our telescopes south to Washington State. “What really needs to happen – which neither my bill nor John Weston’s does – is the Washington State model, where they have an annual licensing fee and part of that licensing fee goes toward a derelict vessel fund,” she said
“In ten years they have taken over 500 derelict vessels off the water.”