British Columbia

After 9 years idle, MV Sun Sea heads to Nanaimo, B.C., to be dismantled

Nearly a decade after arriving off the coast of British Columbia with a boatload full of Tamil migrants, the MV Sun Sea headed off on its final voyage Friday.

Contractor awarded $4.1-million to break apart vessel that carried 492 Tamil migrants

The MV Sun Sea is moved from its dock by tugboats in New Westminster, B.C., on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Nearly a decade after arriving off the coast of British Columbia with a boatload full of Tamil migrants, the MV Sun Sea headed off Friday on its final voyage — to a shipyard in Nanaimo, where it will be dismantled and disposed of. 

The rickety vessel was barely seaworthy when it carried 492 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers from Thailand to Canada in August 2010.

Last month the Canada Border Services Agency awarded a $4.1-million contract to break apart the vessel to Victoria-based company Canadian Maritime Engineering Ltd.

The company is now responsible for recycling and disposing of the vessel's materials. 

The Canada Border Services Agency awarded a $4.1-million contract to break the MV Sun Sea vessel apart to Victoria-based Canadian Maritime Engineering Ltd. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

On Friday, two tugboats moved the MV Sun Sea from its berth at Annacis Marine Base in Delta, B.C. 

Residents of an apartment building in the Queensborough neighbourhood of New Westminster have had a view of the ship for years. 

"Five hundred people came on that ship seeking asylum. Imagine how desperate they were?" said Dorothy Wolf, who was able to see the ship from her third-floor apartment. 

"I think it should be a reminder to people. I have sort of fallen in love with it now."

Kim Hallsworth has lived in the same Queensborough apartment building for six years.

"I am actually going to miss it. It's become iconic ... it's part of Queensborough."

The end of an era

The destruction of the MV Sun Sea marks the latest chapter in a legal and political saga that began when authorities intercepted the cargo ship after its voyage had been tracked for weeks by multiple countries.

The migrants aboard claimed to be fleeing persecution by the Sri Lankan government during a civil war that had torn the country apart. Many were detained on suspicion that they had links to the Tamil Tigers terrorist organization.

Onlookers watch the MV Sun Sea being removed from its dock by tugboats in New Westminster. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In June, B.C.'s Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for the only man ever convicted of human smuggling in connection with the case. The court also rejected the Crown's bid to overturn the acquittals of three other Sri Lankan men who were tried in connection with the case.

The MV Sun Sea has been moored at Annacis Island in Delta, B.C., since 2012. The owner of the ship could never be identified and no one wanted to buy it.

The process

A January 2016 examination revealed several hazardous materials on board the MV Sun Sea, including mould throughout the vessel, asbestos, lead-laden paint, PCBs in paint and cabling coating, mercury in gauges and fluorescent lamps, and radioactive substances in smoke detectors and navigation equipment.

The detailed draft work statement says the contractor must remove and dispose of the potentially dangerous materials while following applicable regulations. For instance, all loose and flaky paint must be scraped off, vacuumed and properly discarded.

Migrants aboard the MV Sun Sea claimed to be fleeing persecution by the Sri Lankan government during a civil war. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In addition, there must be an environmental contingency plan to deal with petroleum product leaks in the water or on the ground, seepage of ozone-depleting substances or catastrophes such as a fire or an explosion.

Nearly 500 Tamil migrants arrived in B.C. aboard the MV Sun Sea in August 2010. (Department of National Defence)

Doug Anderson, general manager at Canadian Maritime Engineering Ltd., says the ship-breaking ⁠— the process of scrapping an entire ship by dismantling and disposing of all its materials ⁠— will be completed at a shipyard in Nanaimo, B.C. Different components of the ship will require different types of disposal. Some will be recycled. 

"A lot of it is going to be subcontracted out on our part," said Anderson. 

Anderson says the vessel will mostly be broken up by the end of November. 

With files from Jason Proctor, Ben Nelms, and Canadian Press

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