Government slow to disclose how many bids received for Cormorant removal

by Keith Corcoran

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is reluctant to reveal how many bids were received in response to the request-for-proposals to remove the ex-diving support vessel from Bridgewater's former government wharf.

Nearly two weeks after the procurement deadline passed - and despite repeated requests for disclosure by LighthouseNOW - the federal government remains mum on the number of proposals, how many of those were qualified bidders, and when the public will know what entity, if any, is selected to deal with the former HMCS Cormorant.

"We hope to have the info later this week, with regards to [your] request and will get it to you as soon as we can," reads an August 25 email from the department's Maritime communications branch.

Three days later, still no response from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

"Please check in with us next week," DFO told LighthouseNOW on August 28.

A spokesman returning from vacation emailed September 1 after LighthouseNOW repeated the questions. "Checking why it's taking so long," Stephen Bornais said.

With still no response by September 3, DFO was contacted again.

"When we can say, you are the first to know," Bornais said. "All I can say at this time."

The deadline for bids was August 10 but was extended three more times; to August 17, 20, and 24.

The procurement is to "have all bulk pollutants removed from the vessel ... the vessel prepared for towage to a dismantling and recycling facility, and final dismantle and recycling" of the 75-metre MV Cormorant. Whatever entity secures the project, it has up to nine months to finish the job.

One potential bidder requested more time so it could "have another environmental company that we hope can provide better pricing on the disposal." The Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia self-identified as interested in the tender, records posted online indicated, but it's unknown if it was the party which requested the extension.

DFO's inability to answer numbers-centric questions and its disinterest in forecasting the procurement award makes some political observers wonder if Bernadette Jordan, DFO minister and MP for the local riding where the Cormorant's been an unwanted fixture for years, plans a credit-grabbing splash leading up to a parliamentary throne speech.

However, Ontario-based political strategist Rob Gilmour cautions, "If anyone plays politics with this issue, it could be choppy waters."

Gilmour, a vice-president at Counsel Public Affairs, sees it as a decision important for the people, the government and opposition.

Given the minority parliament and rumours of an early federal election call, "it is safe to think there will be political considerations in every decision," Gilmour told LighthouseNOW.

The Cormorant grew to be 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 Canadian Coast Guard (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.

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

The procurement to remove the vessel was posted June 29.

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