The Federal Court in Ottawa issued a consent judgment on November 8 declaring the Port of Bridgewater is the agreed owner of the Cormorant, and is liable for the salvage cost the Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund (SOPF) has previously claimed.
At the same time the Canadian Coast guard is declaring the derelict vessel that has languished in the port for 15 years a pollution threat.
Decommissioned in 1997, Cormorant has been at the centre of ongoing legal issues between the Port of Bridgewater, the American Neil S. Hjelle, and the Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund (SOPF) concerning its ownership and liability relating to approximately $500,000 in salvage costs.
The ship has also been a source of frustration for many Bridgewater residents, who call it an eyesore.
As part of the ownership agreement, the SOPF has agreed to reduce the salvage costs from half-a-million-dollars to $375,000, inclusive of principal, prejudgment interest and costs.
The question over who actually owns the vessel has prevented any disposal of the Cormorant to date. But Rick Welsford, owner of the Port of Bridgewater, said: "In theory, if the ship was disposed of through a sale then any funds from the sale would go toward paying that debt."
Welsford said there have already been expressions of interest in the vessel. When asked what his immediate next steps were, he responded, "Get rid of the Cormorant."
The Coast Guard's latest finding contradicts its own assessment in 2015, after it conducted a salvage operation with the vessel. The Cormorant listed dramatically in March of that year following several heavy snow and ice storms. The starboard side toppled against the jetty owned by the Port of Bridgewater, while the hull came to rest on the bottom of the LaHave River.
Since then, federal officials have been saying that pollutants had been drained from the Cormorant and the ship was not a concern.
According to Stephen Bornais, a communications advisor for the federal government's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), in an e-mail to LighthouseNOW, "The Coast Guard is taking measures to enhance the integrity of the vessel, mooring arrangements, and security on site.
"'Analysis of the information from the technical assessment is ongoing. The Coast Guard will determine next steps once the full analysis of the assessment is completed.'"
Welsford told LighthouseNOW he had only learned of the Coast Guard's finding on November 22, in a a letter from the government body personally addressed to him and dated November 20.
Welsford said the letter did not provide a lot of details, and just says there is "'an imminent threat of pollution.' "But it doesn't say how they've come up with that or what changed between now and four years ago," he commented.
Welsford has since asked the Coast Guard for information from the assessment, which he said he helped with. "And I thought that, as a port owner, I should know if there's something there we should be really worried about."
LighthouseNOW has also reached out to the DFO for clarification, however, neither the newspaper nor Welsford had received a response by press time.