Abandoned cargo ship grounded on Montreal's South Shore to be dismantled, at last

The federal government has laid out plans to eventually dismantle Kathryn Spirit, a cargo ship abandoned on Montreal's South Shore since 2011. Work is to begin in December.

Kathryn Spirit has been grounded on Montreal's South Shore since 2011

The Kathryn Spirit, a cargo ship sitting abandoned in Lac Saint-Louis on Montreal's South Shore, is listing heavily to one side. (Radio-Canada)

The federal government has laid out its plans to eventually dismantle Kathryn Spirit, a cargo ship abandoned on Montreal's South Shore since 2011.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Thursday a local construction company will begin work in December to build a protective embankment around the ship in order to prevent a spill and isolate it from the marine environment.

Plans and funding for the next phases, including dismantlement and removal of the vessel, are currently being finalized. Work is expected to begin in spring 2017, Garneau said in a statement. 

"The government of Canada recognizes the risks that abandoned, derelict and wrecked vessels pose to safe navigation, the marine environment, public health and local economies," he said.

Concerns of contamination

A drop in water levels in Lac Saint-Louis over the summer led to increased concerns about the Kathryn Spirit's stability.

The vessel is listing heavily to one side and is at risk of leaking millions of litres of contaminated water if it keels over.

The deputy commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, Julie Gascon, said the dismantling will take place on site because the ship's condition rules out transporting it elsewhere.

"The situation with the vessel is stable, however, building the embankment is a priority in order to isolate completely the vessel from the environment,'' Gascon said.

Beauharnois Mayor Claude Haineault is seen standing on the shores of Lac St-Louis last winter. He has long pressed for the ship's removal from the area. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
Beauharnois Mayor Claude Haineault called on Ottawa to take urgent action last July, saying Lac Saint-Louis risks being contaminated if there is a spill.

Original plan to scrap ship scrapped

Ironically, the government has awarded the contract to build the embankment to Groupe St-Pierre – the demolition company that towed the ship to Beauharnois in the first place, hoping to dismantle it and sell it for scrap.

That plan encountered stiff opposition from local activists and environmentalists and never materialized.

The ship was then sold to a Mexican recycling company, which later went bankrupt.

Garneau defended the decision to award the contract to Groupe St-Pierre, explaining that the company is located near the ship and is able to begin construction immediately.

Once the first phase is done, Ottawa will put out a tender for the ship's dismantling, probably next spring.

100s of abandoned ships

Garneau said a five-year, $1.5-billion ocean protection plan announced last Monday would help address the larger problem of what to do about hundreds of abandoned vessels across the country.

While the exact numbers aren't available, Garneau said estimates suggest there are between 600 and 700 abandoned vessels on Canada's three coasts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the funding will go towards creating a marine safety system, restoring marine ecosystems and research into oil spill cleanup methods.

with files from The Canadian Press