2017-11-08

Ottawa floats act to tackle abandoned boats

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>Residents of Bridgewater may soon see some movement on the derelict vessels that have been languishing in their port.</p>

The federal government has launched tough new measures to deal with the estimated 600 abandoned boats in Canadian waterways.

Aimed at vessels of a minimum 300 gross tons, the proposed Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, which Transport Minister Marc Garneau introduced in the House of Commons October 30, gives Ottawa the might to tackle problem boats such as the three languishing in the Port of Bridgewater.

It's something for which the Member of Parliament for South Shore-St. Margaret's Bernadette Jordan has pushed for some time.

While Jordan told LighthouseNOW she didn't know if she could speak directly to specific cases, she said Bill C-64 means Ottawa can issue fines for non-compliance and regulatory offences, and ensure vessel owners are liable for costs and expenses involved in mitigating hazards or damages.

"Those are some of the things that are really important. Because up until now the only way that the federal government could be involved was if [the abandoned vessel is] blocking a navigable waterway or is an environmental hazard. At least this gives the federal government power to actually deal with some of these things. And it makes it illegal to abandon boats."

While Jordan needed to confirm the exact amounts of potential fines under the proposed legislation, according to a CBC report owners of abandoned vessels could face fines up to $300,000 and a six-month jail term, and corporations can be fined as much as $6 million.

Currently, owners who abandon their vessels are not subject to any penalties, and some owners see abandonment as a low-cost, low-risk option, noted the transport minister.

"This has to stop," said Garneau.

The act is part of Ottawa's $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan brought in almost a year ago. It stems, in part, from M-40, the private members' motion Jordan introduced last year, calling on the government to act on the problem of abandoned and derelict vessels.

Commenting on the proposed legislation during Question Period in the House of Commons on November 1, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Jordan for "her advocacy on this important file."

The legislation is also intended to reduce the financial burden on taxpayers.

Owners of vessels over a certain size would be required to carry insurance to cover the costs of wreck removal.

The law builds on the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks of 2007, which established such a regime.

Garneau acknowledged to reporters that while the bill gives the government new powers to try and force owners of existing derelicts to remove them safely, there will be no fines or penalties imposed on the owner of a boat which has already been abandoned, since in some cases ownership cannot be determined.

Jordan agreed the legislation is "basically on a go-forward basis.

"However, once it comes into effect, it will be able to address legacy boat problems," she insisted. "I went to the technical briefing on this and I asked that question and that was the answer that I was given, is that, yes, it will be.

"If it's a vessel of concern, then the government is going to be able to address it," she stressed.

To this end, the federal government is also working with the provinces and territories to establish better rules for identifying boats.

According to Garneau, the plan is to establish an inventory of the existing derelicts with the goal of trying to remove them all.

Another strong advocate of a solution to the problem of abandoned boats, the B.C. New Democrat Party MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Sheila Malcolmson, said she still needs to read the proposed bill. However, she commented to the CBC the proposed legislation "is absolutely a breakthrough for coastal communities."

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