Government ‘assessing next steps’ for Cormorant after receiving two expressions of interest

by Keith Corcoran

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>The MV Cormorant at the LaHave Street port in Bridgewater.</p>

The Port of Bridgewater filed one of two expressions of interest to the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) at the end of a 21-day public notice issued by the federal government concerning items aboard the MV Cormorant, a long-standing controversial fixture on the LaHave Street waterfront.

Rick Welsford, the president of the company that owns the port, told LighthouseNOW its interest is two-fold.

"Honour the fall agreement with the Government of Canada, which finally allowed for the legal removal of the ship last fall from the Port of Bridgewater, which has cost the Port just under $500,000 and was approved by the Federal Court of Canada...

"Or have them remove the ship, apply with us for the reversal of the previous federal court agreements and reimburse the Port for their legal costs of three years when requesting to dispose of the vessel and which had been blocked by the Government of Canada. Costs for this are provided for in the new legislation."

"Everyone wants the ship removed as soon as possible," Welsford said. "And this would also allow for the removal of the trawlers ..." Welsford was referring to the Hannah Atlantic and Ryan Atlantic II (also known as the Cape Rouge), which are also at the port with the Cormorant, and have been abandoned by their owner. Welsford said there are still standing offers to buy the Atlantics but not the Cormorant.

The Rupert Brand, another vessel at the Port, is prepared as an artificial reef for diving. Its owner is unknown.

Meanwhile, a federal court ruling had placed ownership of the Cormorant, a former diving support vessel, in the custody of the Port.

Sources familiar with the circumstances said a Nova Scotia naval association is the other "notice of interest" filing and that it wants to remove and preserve the sub on board the Cormorant. The CCG isn't going public with whom or what entities expressed interest, but it confirmed it received no liens against the vessel.

The CCG "is assessing its next steps, which may include the removal and recycling of the vessel," said Stephen Bornais, a department spokesman.

The CCG, in a published notice in early March, indicated the agency and ministerial intention to "dispose" of the Cormorant in response to the threat of pollution posed by the vessel. The notice directed anyone with liens or other interests in the vessel, or questions to contact Coast Guard Environmental Response.

The Cormorant was subject of a media briefing in December about stabilization efforts.

Thousands of litres of oil and water were pumped out of the 75-metre vessel, deemed an imminent pollution threat. Work included new mooring lines, fenders, and the removal of 13,000 litres of water and 5,300 litres of oil. There were a number of other steps completed. A contractor was also on site. There were no injuries.

Assessment report

A recent federal Access to Information Act request filed by LighthouseNOW yielded a copy of the "Condition Survey, Pollution Risk Assessment and Towage Assessment" concerning the Cormorant, completed last summer by Dartmouth-based London Offshore Consultants.

The report, dated October 14, concludes the vessel was a "grave and immediate threat of pollution," but much of the document is censored. The assessment cost nearly $17,000, the CCG said.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada redacted details because third party information was provided to government in confidence, and text contains accounts "of consultations or deliberations" involving government operations.

Low enthusiasm for media briefing

There wasn't a lot of immediate enthusiasm in response to government communications staff's proposition of a technical briefing for the media last winter about the Cormorant.

Senior bureaucrats were told such an event would likely "end the drip of media calls on the subject and allow us to get ahead of the story."

One CCG official felt it could be something to, maybe, consider later on, while another official said in an email, "I'm not completely sure it's a good idea."

The exchanges were included in LighthouseNOW's Access to Information Act request.

In the end, the communications person won out with his concept of a briefing "properly directed and control [sic] [that] can deal with all interested media ..."

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