Federal government awards $1.817 million procurement to dismantle, remove former HMCS Cormorant

by Keith Corcoran

R.J. MacIsaac Construction has secured a $1.817 million deal with the federal government to dismantle and remove the contentious ex-diving support vessel Cormorant from Bridgewater's former government wharf.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) announced the agreement October 8 in a news release.

"This issue of abandoned and derelict vessels is a passion of mine, and the Cormorant vessel has been a personal priority for me both as a community member and [parliamentarian] for years," local MP and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan said in a statement.

"Our ports are not dumping grounds – they are hubs for community and industry. With the contract awarded, the safe and responsible removal of the Cormorant is finally within our sight."

It's expected R.J. MacIsaac Construction, an Antigonish-based marine construction and demolition firm that specializes in ship recycling and other marine contracting, along with the CCG will have personnel and equipment mobilized in the weeks ahead to begin the process.

"Project completion depends on a number of factors such as the environment and possible hazards on the vessel," the government said in the October 8 news release. "More information will be provided as the project progresses." The request-for-proposal indicated the successful bidder would have up to nine months to complete the project.

R.J. MacIsaac Construction proved to have the most valid bid in Fisheries and Oceans' department's second go at a public procurement concerning the former HMCS Cormorant. The first attempt, in June, was cancelled following three deadline extensions and after none of the bids met technical requirements.

The successful request-for-proposal, which closed September 28, contained adding a pricing estimate for asbestos removal and minimum experience requirements. The successful entity also needed to have at least five years experience in marine salvage or in the offshore industry, and provide a "detailed account of previously completed pollutant assessment and removal operations on derelict vessels on two separate occasions together with references" that have happened within the last 15 years.

The work includes removing all bulk pollutants from the 1960s-era, 75-metre-long vessel and have it prepared for towage to a dismantling and recycling facility.

Over the years, the Cormorant had become a notorious and controversial accessory at the Bridgewater's LaHave Street port. The port assumed custody of the decommissioned vessel in a federal court ruling last year after Nevada-based ownership stopped its involvement with the boat.

Nearly 6,000 litres of waste oil from the engine-room bilge and 350 litres of hydraulic oil from several tanks was removed from the Cormorant following an incident five years ago. The Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund pegged the salvage and re-floating effort costs exceeding $534,000. The CCG declared the Cormorant pollutant-free in 2015.

A Dartmouth-based consulting firm was paid $17,000 to complete a 57-page Condition Survey, Pollution Risk Assessment and Towage Assessment last summer. Its October 2019 report determined the Cormorant was a "grave and immediate threat of pollution." The consultant estimated it would cost between $1.9 million and $2.7 million "for removal of pollutants, towage of the vessel within Nova Scotia, and demolition."

During a briefing last winter, the CCG said 13,000 litres of water and 5,300 litres of oil was pumped out of the Cormorant as part of a stabilization effort.

In a notice published in March, the CCG announced the agency and ministerial intention to "dispose" of the Cormorant in response to the threat of pollution posed by the vessel.

Meanwhile, the port's owner, Rick Welsford, has launched a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging Ottawa didn't have proper grounds to seize the Cormorant, unlawful interference in port operations, and requested an injunction prohibiting the removal, selling, dismantling, destroying or disposing of the Cormorant or its contents.

The lawsuit, filed in the summer, names Jordan, and the Coast Guard as defendants. The federal government responded with a motion to strike down Welsford's legal action.

None of the allegation have been tested in court.

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