2020-11-18

Goodbye, Cormorant

by KEITH CORCORAN

A couple of tugboats on the LaHave River were expected this week to tow the former HMCS Cormorant - a notorious and controversial accessory at Bridgewater's former government wharf - away to a Halifax County shipyard, where the former navy diving support vessel meets its final destination and demise.

Among the tasks for Antigonish County-based marine construction and demolition firm R.J. MacIsaac Construction were to remove bulk pollutants from the 1960s-era, 75-metre-long vessel and have it prepared for towage to a dismantling and recycling facility. After a couple of false starts due to weather conditions, the tow and journey out-of-town was scheduled tentatively for November 17.

The company, which has a history of ship recycling and marine contracting expertise, won a $1.817 million federal government procurement in October to do the work. The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and the company have had personnel and equipment on the wharf off LaHave Street.

The scheduled disappearance of the Cormorant to an Eastern Shore facility is a political win for South Shore-St. Margaret's MP Bernadette Jordan, who is also the federal minister in charge of the CCG and Fisheries and Oceans. For too long, ports were becoming dumping grounds for abandoned and derelict vessels, Jordan said in previous comments - vowing to make it a priority to change the pattern.

Meanwhile, the owner of the Port of Bridgewater where the Cormorant called home for about 20 years isn't upset to see the ship depart, but he thinks it could have met a better fate.

"I am sad that the ship's contents including the ... submarine is still on board and destined for the ship breakers in Sheet Harbour," Rick Welsford stated on social media before the removal. "With many groups in the wings [the Cormorant] could have been cleaned and recycled as an artificial reef providing recreational activities and economic benefits for the community that wished to have her. That opportunity is lost now forever," he said.

The port assumed custody of the decommissioned vessel in a 2019 federal court ruling after Nevada-based ownership stopped its involvement with the boat.

In previous comments, Welsford suggested the federal government created obstacles over the years preventing port-orchestrated solutions to selling the Cormorant.

Following an incident five years ago, nearly 6,000 litres of waste oil from the engine-room bilge and 350 litres of hydraulic oil from several tanks were removed from the Cormorant. 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.

In the summer of 2019, a Dartmouth-based consulting firm was paid $17,000 to complete a 57-page Condition Survey, Pollution Risk Assessment and Towage Assessment of the Cormorant. Its October 2019 report determined the Cormorant was a "grave and immediate threat of pollution."

During a December 2019 briefing, 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.

"The constant assurances, delays and battles over ownership, sale and finally removal, have left a bitter taste in the mouth of many," David Mitchell, Bridgewater's mayor, commented in a social media post before the towing.

Mitchell said he's "keenly aware that the port still has other derelict vessels tied up."

"About a year ago, I met with the owner of the port, and Mr. Welsford told me that he had a buyer and a plan for the other two ships ... I do sincerely hope that is still the case."

The owner of the Ryan Atlantic II (also known as the Cape Rouge), and the Hannah Atlantic has abandoned those vessels. It's unclear who owns the Rupert Brand, which had been prepared as an artificial reef for diving.

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