UPDATED: Already assessed for pollutants, Cormorant to receive another assessment

by Gayle Wilson

With the abandoned ship Cormorant strategically in the background, the Minister of Rural Economic Development, Bernadette Jordan, announced with a flourish that the Canadian Coast Guard intends to assess the possible threat of pollution from the derelict ship that has been an eyesore for years.

The announcement was made at a media event at the Municipal Park in Bridgewater on June 24.

"This assessment is the first step in determining the best course of action for the Cormorant," said Jordan, who is also the MP for South Shore-St. Margaret's.

However, neither Jordan nor Dave Yard, the superintendent of environmental response for the Canadian Coast Guard's Atlantic region, could confirm to reporters exactly when the job would be started, nor completed, nor what it would cost.

And for the past two years, federal officials have been saying that pollutants have been drained from the Cormorant and the ship is not a concern.

"A visual inspection of the vessel by Coast Guard's Environmental Response personnel last month indicated the vessel was stable and did not pose a threat of pollution," Stephen Bournais, communications advisor for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) told LighthouseNOW in an email in April, 2018.

Keith Laidlaw, the senior response officer for the Coast Guard, offered a similar perspective.

Laidlaw was in charge of the salvage of the Cormorant when it toppled against the Port of Bridgewater jetty in March 2015.

He also responded in 2017 when a slight sheen appeared on the LaHave River near the port.

In both instances he confirmed to this newspaper that all the fluids had been cleaned out of the Cormorant's main engine block, hydraulic tanks and hydraulic lines and that the hull was deemed intact and not leaking.

Yard conceded that the bulk pollutants had been removed when the ship was righted, however he noted the vessel has been there ever since.

"So we want to go in and have another look and confirm, through a technical assessment, again, if there are any pollutants remaining on board."

Yard said the Coast Guard would carry out the technical assessment, the first step of which is a hazardous assessment, for things such as air quality and whether there are any mold issues, before the actual assessment begins.

"And once the assessment starts we'll start quantifying if there are any pollutants on board, and the condition of the hull and the integrity of the vessel itself to determine what the risk of pollution is from this particular vessel."

Jay Straith, the lawyer for Rick Welsford, the owner of the Port of Bridgewater who has been battling to have the vessel removed, said in an email to LighthouseNOW: "We have seen this movie before."

Caustic in his remarks, Straith pointed out that Welsford wasn't invited to the news conference and added: "For some reason we're not horribly surprised given the fact that this was more political theatre than anything substantive.

"I must say I have been absolutely horrified with the way the port of Bridgewater has been treated by the government of Canada from the get go in this matter."

Speaking with reporters after Jordan's announcement, Yard pegged the start date of the assessment "in the very near future," and later clarified that it would be a matter of "weeks."

The end date would be dependent on "what we run into," he said.

As for cost, it will come down to "depending what we find," said Yard.

Jordan denied, as one reporter suggested, the announcement was "all for show."

"Absolutely not," she responded.

She emphasized the technical assessment is the first step in order to find out what the best steps forward are "for removal, or remediation and estimated costs. These are all things that we have to know," said the minister.

Earlier, she had told the gathering, which included Town of Bridgewater and members of the Coast Guard and the media , it was almost two years ago to the day that she stood on the dock in Shelburne and announced that the Canadian Coast Guard was issuing a contract for the removal of the Farley Mowat to address the threat of pollution from that abandoned vessel.

"This is a pretty similar situation to which we have here today in Bridgewater," she said.

The MP reminded the group of her efforts concerning the issue of abandoned boats, pointing out that in 2016 she tabled a motion, M40, which sought to address the challenge that abandoned vessels present to coastal communities. That motion was linked to changes to Canada Marine Act and Canada Shipping Act, and the creation of Bill C64 - the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act.

Jordan described the Cormorant as "a point of contention for some time, not to mention a bit of an eyesore."

However, Jordan's announcement was made on a day when Michelle Rempel, the Conservative MP for Calgary Nose Hill, was in Lunenburg for a fundraising event for the PC candidate for Jordan's riding, Rick Perkins.

And the Liberal MP used the opportunity to point to "10 years of cuts under the Harper's Conservatives" to things such as oceans' protection, science and maintaining healthy marine eco-system.

"Our government is active on our commitment to restoring and improving each of these measures," she told the gathering.

She noted as well the government is now ensuring the Canada Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund (SOPF) has "unlimited financial support available to the responders and victims of marine pollution incidents."

SOPF is claiming $534,340.76 against the Cormorant's still-disputed owner for salvage costs the Coast Guard incurred in salvaging the toppled vessel in 2015.

Welsford told LighthouseNOW he saw the announcement on social media. "But there's no details. There's nothing. I don't know what's going on," he said.

However, Welsford added he is happy to cooperate.

"The port will be their number one supporter when they get there to do whatever it is they're committing to do," he said.

Meanwhile, Bridgewater Mayor David Mitchell told the gathering the announcement was "very exciting. While it is a first step in a process that will likely take some time, he said, "we have never had a first step before.

"We have never been closer to addressing these derelict ships than we are today," the mayor added.

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