Unsightly wreckage angers Lunenburg County resident

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Judith Atkinson stands in front of the abandoned Schwalbe, which ran aground in Feltzen South in February, 2015.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Judith Atkinson stands in front of the abandoned Schwalbe, which ran aground in Feltzen South in February, 2015.</p>
  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>In contrast to how it looks today, the Schwalbe pictured before scavengers had a go at the grounded vessel.</p>

More than two years after the Schwalbe ran aground in Feltzen South, the sail boat is still languishing, abandoned and an irritant for Judith Atkinson, into whose cove the vessel has run aground.

And despite the federal government's recently announced funding support for the removal of abandoned small boats, Atkinson herself is unlikely to see any direct assistance.

"It became impaled. I mean, it's got three holes in it, at least, now," says Atkinson who, so far, has had no support in having the 17-metre boat taken away after it ran aground in February, 2015.

"I talked to the Coast Guard, multiple times. And they said, 'We were on there and we took gas, oil and stuff off of it.' That's their task. Their task is not to move a boat like that."

Atkinson is both concerned and miffed because scavengers regularly comb the area, debris is breaking away and scattering on her property, youth come to party on and around the boat, and tourists have even been knocking on her door and asking about the story behind the wreck.

"They come down there to pick up glass. They beach comb. They drink."

Once she encountered someone who had set up a tent. "He was living there.

"I mean, the stuff that goes on down there. There's all kinds of crap down there. Pieces of stuff, still from the boat....electronics. All kinds of stuff.

"Nobody cares, except me, at this point. Nobody cares."

Atkinson is an American, and one of the first women engineers trained through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She and her late husband spend four months a year at the property, which has been in his Nova Scotian-born family for years.

CBC News reported in June, 2014 that the Schwalbe, its British owner Charlie Holland and his partner Somporn Chiangmanee landed in Halifax after they were blown 1,600 nautical miles off course in a storm while travelling from the Bahamas to Bermuda.

According to that report, the 88-year-old vessel incurred $75,000 in damage.

Stephen Bornais, a spokesperson with the federal government's Department of Fisheries and Oceans told LighthouseNOW, Holland then sailed the boat to Lunenburg harbour.

The Schwalbe had been moored at Lunenburg on February 1, 2015 when it broke free and drifted across the bay.

Tim Wentzell of the Feltzen South Harbour Authority reported the grounding to the Coast Guard amid fears the boat may break up and leak oil and gasoline into the harbour.

Coast Guard spokesman Keith Laidlaw told this newspaper in February, 2015 staff boarded the vessel and determined that no contaminants were leaking from it.

"There is an owner, so it is ultimately the owner's responsibility to look after his vessel," Laidlaw said. "The Coast Guard has been in contact with the owner through e-mail, although he is out of the country, and we're hoping that he will respond to it, but, if not, then the Coast Guard will."

He confirmed the Coast Guard's primary responsibility is the removal of pollutants from the vessel, such as fuels and lubricants.

Holland received notice under the Canadian Shipping Act to supply the Coast Guard with a response plan.

Laidlaw confirmed Holland contacted the Coast Guard and advised he has no money or insurance for the boat.

He said because Holland still owns the vessel it remains his responsibility.

Atkinson reports she was advised Holland has since indicated that whoever wants the boat can have it.

The DFO's Bornais has referred questions about the legal policy in this respect to the department's headquarters in Ottawa. Its reply was not yet available at the time of printing.

Since Holland is not a resident of Canada, making him accountable for the removal of the boat is challenging. It's instances like this that eventually spurred the federal government to act on a private members bill South Shore-St. Margaret's MP Bernadette Jordan introduced concerning abandoned boats.

Although she is from the Feltzen South area, Jordan said she wasn't aware of this particular abandoned boat. However, she confirmed that Atkinson herself cannot qualify directly for assistance under the Abandoned Small Boats program, since it is applicable only to organizations, and municipal and provincial governments.

She suggested Atkinson push her case to the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg.

"I don't know the vessel, I don't know what the requirements are. I don't know if it meets the footage, you know what the actual guidelines are so I can't speak to that. But I do know that provincial or municipal units are able to apply for that funding, so that's a possibility."

However, she added, the idea is not to take away responsibility from the boat owner.

"This has been my beef from day one, is why do these people feel they do not have to be held to account?

"There has to be a better way for us to deal with these people who say it's okay to just drop everything where they leave it."

While Jordan said she wasn't sure about how the small boats program will deal with this issue, she noted that part of her motion that was adopted in the Oceans Protections Plan for the bigger vessels "is that there will be a closing of that loophole, in terms of registration, when international boats are in our waters.

There will be something for the bigger vessels, I think, something coming down hopefully in the near future on that. But I'm not sure about the small craft."

Jordan admitted she didn't realize the extent of the problem of abandoned small craft.

"On the B.C. coast, that seems to be the majority of their problems are the smaller boats and the house boats... And they're unsafe. People are living on them, kids are playing on them."

Still, Jordan says she's glad the federal government has introduced a plan "as a starting point" in dealing with the issue.

"That's the first time that's ever been done. There's never been a way for anyone to be involved and help with the removal of these until now. So it's a step in the right direction."

Ottawa still rigging boats program

While resident and absent boat owners alike are accountable for their vessels in Canadian waters, the federal government is recognizing more work is needed to give teeth to compliance laws.

According federal Department of Transport spokesperson, Clay Cervoni, as part of its Oceans Protection Plan, Ottawa intends to introduce new legislation this year that will "strengthen laws prohibiting vessel abandonment, increase vessel-owner responsibility and liability for vessel end-of-life management, and enable the government to be more proactive in addressing abandoned, derelict or wrecked vessels posing hazards."

Assistance for some

Meanwhile, it recently launched its Abandoned Small Boats program to provide removal assistance to certain groups that qualify. These include:

Provinces, territories, municipalities and local governments

Indigenous groups, communities and organizations

Private ports or marinas

Canadian Port Authorities

For-profit organizations and not-for-profit organizations

Abandoned and/or wrecked boats in a federally-owned small craft harbour are not eligible for funding.

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