British Columbia

HMCS Annapolis warship could sink accidentally off Gambier Island if not towed, says lawyer

A deteriorating former warship from the 1960s is on "borrowed time" and could sink accidentally off Gambier Island within months, says an Artificial Reef Society lawyer.

HMCS Annapolis could sink in the wrong place, according to the Artificial Reef Society of B.C.

The decommissioned HMCS Annapolis, pictured off Gambier Island in B.C.'s Howe Sound in 2010, is at risk of accidentally sinking, if not towed to B.C.'s Halkett Bay, according to the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. (Canadian Press)

A deteriorating former warship from the 1960s is on "borrowed time," and could sink accidentally within months, said a lawyer for the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. on Wednesday.

Bryan Hicks told a Federal Court that HMCS Annapolis must be towed from Long Bay, also known as Port Graves, on Gambier Island, to nearby Halkett Bay Marine Park, so the society can finally sink it and create an artificial reef.

Hicks is in court fighting an application from the Save Halkett Bay Marine Park group to stop the sinking of the ship, which was sold in 2008 to the society for sinking in the marine park for the benefit of divers and marine life.

Such have been the delays due to extensive testing and the court case, argues Hicks, the HMCS Annapolis could now sink on its own, causing environmental devastation that may cost more than $2 million to clean up.

"Not only would it be an environmental catastrophe from the perspective of its effects on the sea bed at that location ... but also it would create danger for boat traffic in that area," he said.

Group concerned with toxic chemicals

The Save Halkett Bay group, formed by concerned residents, argues the ship contains toxic chemicals and its planned sinking would pollute the waters and damage marine life.

Hicks said Environment Canada estimated in August 2014 that the risk of accidental sinking would grow over the following six months and become highly likely by the summer of 2015 due to the age and corrosion of the vessel.

When the federal agency issued a permit last October to allow the planned sinking, the reef society began to prepare by pumping in sea water to fill some gas tanks and cutting holes in the hull.

But the Save Halkett Bay group filed an injunction to stop the sinking in January, shortly before the reef society hoped to carry out its plans.

Hicks argued Wednesday that the group should have filed its court action sooner and has now put the reef society — and the Annapolis — in a perilous position.

Opponents want minister to get involved

Martin Peters, lawyer for Save Halkett Bay, said he was waiting to hear from federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq after the group asked her to create a panel to review the decision to issue a permit to the reef society.

Aglukkaq, who is also named in the court action, declined to create such a panel in January.

Peters said it was only in December that the group received independent laboratory results showing the ship contained toxic compounds called tributyltins.

The compounds are specifically designed to prevent the growth of marine life, and Peters argued it's illegal to dispose of them in the ocean.

"This is the most dangerous substance, most toxic substance, ever introduced into the marine environment," he said.

He argued the environment minister did not adequately consider the presence of tributyltins when she issued the permit. Environment Canada tests for the compounds in the ship's paint were "inconclusive," Peters said.

But Hicks argued the federal government thoroughly considered tributyltins in the decision to issue a permit. Since the paint was applied more than 12 years ago, the tributyltins were deemed "inactive," and no longer pose a risk to marine life.

Hicks said Environment Canada found the hull of the ship was covered in extensive marine life, which would have been impossible if the tributyltins were still active.

Map of Gambier Island, B.C.

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