In June

In June

Why is this ship still in our harbour?

She’ll sink: it’s only a matter of time and the Coast Guard has been warned she will.

A slick discovered in Ladysmith Harbour Thursday turns out to have been caused by a sunken sailboat named the Lisa, which went down just south of the community marina, Ladysmith Maritime Society Executive Director Rod Smith confirmed on Monday.

On Thursday, June 11, Smith told the Chronicle that “There was a report at three o’clock this morning of a sound of tearing wood.”

That morning two propane bottles, children’s toys, and life jackets were found, floating in Ladysmith harbour – and the oily sheen, suspected to be diesel fuel, drifting toward the LMS docks.

Bad as the sinking of the Lisa was, though, it’s not the whole story. Not by half. It’s just a reminder, really, of a full-blown catastrophe poised to make headlines if a known floating hazard in Ladysmith harbour, the Viki Lyne II, ever goes down – and the Coast Guard has been warned she will.

Three years ago, in June, 2012, they commissioned a report by McAllister Marine Survey & Design on the Viki Lyne II. Built in 1961, she’s a 224 ton, 103 ft. long, rusting hulk tied up with a group of boats toward Slack Point. She has 13,000 litres of oil and solvents on board – what remains after 20,000 litres were pumped out of her by the Coast Guard last fall as a partial step to reduce the environmental risk of a potentially devastating spill.

The McAllister report says the Viki Lyne II is in imminent danger of sinking because her hull is possibly rusted through. The marine survey could not determine the “lowest likely hull thickness,” but sufficient data was gathered to issue the following warning:

“We can, however, assume that the hull is very close to being penetrated by corrosion. In fact, the hull may be penetrated below the waterline but covered with scale and marine growth which is preventing the inflooding of the hull.”

Adds the report: “All readers of this document are cautioned that scraping of the external hull below the waterline may cause the vessel to flood.” It concludes: “Disassembly and scrapping of the vessel is the only certain way of removing her current threat to the environment.”

And yet, no action has been taken to remove the vessel from Ladysmith Harbour in the three years since the McAllister survey was submitted, even though enough oil and solvents remain on board to devastate the harbour if she ever sinks.

So concerned are local governments, they petitioned the federal Minister of Transport to do something about it. Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone and Stz’uminus Chief John Elliott both signed a letter to Lisa Raitt Feb. 15 expressing their ‘grave concern’ about the threat the ‘derelict vessel’ Viki Lyne II represents to Ladysmith Harbour.

If the Viki Lyne II does go down, they said: “it will be an environmental disaster affecting the traditional waters of the Stz’uminus First Nation, a vibrant and established shellfish industry, a growing marine tourism industry, BC’s most successful Western Purple Martin recovery colony and the very lifestyle of a region known for its connection to the sea.”

The LMS also petitioned Raitt to do something, but in a reply she said the Viki Lyne II does not constitute a navigational hazard, and is therefore outside her jurisdiction.

“I understand that Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Response has been in contact with you regarding some of the specific questions and pollution effects related to the vessel,” Raitt said. “As you may be aware, the Canadian Coast Guard would be the lead agency in coordinating a response to any pollution events.”

In May the Progressive Conservative majority in Parliament quashed regulations put forward by Cowichan-Nanaimo MP Jean Crowder that would have strengthened the Coast Guard’s ability to remove and dispose of derelict vessels in coastal harbours (Chronicle, May 19, Dogpatch solution dies in parliament).

Although the bill had the unanimous support of every other party the Conservatives argued it would have required the government to spend more money, and would have taken power from Raitt’s ministry, Transport Canada.

Crowder denied those claims.

In fact the Coast Guard does have the authority to remove derelict vessels, as Raitt suggested, but has no budget to do the job. To deal with a vessel like the Viki Lyne II before it actually sinks, the Coast Guard must pay for the work out of its existing budget, then apply to an agency called the Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund in Ottawa to be reimbursed. If SSOPF turns them down, the Coast Guard will have – in effect – robbed Peter to save Paul from a pending environmental disaster.

An SSOPF representative was on the Viki Lyne II, “without prejudice”, when she was inspected for the Coast Guard in 2012. SSOPF Administrator Alfred Popp said Monday, that is not an indication a removal of the Viki Lyne II would be funded, and he added no application to the fund for removal of the Viki Lyne II has been submitted by the Coast Guard.

Dan Bate, communications officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the Coast Guard will sometimes take intermediate steps to mitigate a situation, while trying to limit the financial risk to themselves, as appears to be the case with the Viki Lyne II.

“Sometimes they will remove materials from a vessel to reduce risk, then reassess and determine later whether or not to remove the vessel itself,” he said. He had not heard of any recent action on the Viki Lyne II file.

That leaves communities and businesses around Ladysmith Harbour with the potential environmental disaster on their hands.

“Our communities, individually and together, have written many times to you and your predecessors pleading for help in addressing the issue of derelict and abandoned vessels in our harbour,” said Mayor Stone and Chief Elliott in their letter to Raitt. “However, the situation in our harbour continues to deteriorate, and our communities are virtually powerless to resolve it, nor do we have the funds required to dispose of a vessel like the Viki Lyne II.”