Former navy ship in Bridgewater 'imminent threat of pollution,' coast guard says
Federal Court order answers question of ownership, says Port of Bridgewater responsible for Cormorant
A former navy vessel that's languished in Bridgewater, N.S., for 18 years has deteriorated and now poses an environmental risk to the LaHave River, according to the Canadian Coast Guard.
The coast guard has completed the pollution threat assessment of the Cormorant announced in June and found that "it's an imminent threat of pollution."
"The mooring lines are deteriorating. There are pollutants that have been leaking from the engine ... There's some questions around the hull integrity," Bernadette Jordan, Canada's minister responsible for fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, told CBC's Information Morning.
While the coast guard's last assessment in 2015 stated the derelict vessel was free of pollution, Jordan, the MP for South Shore-St. Margarets, said deterioration has changed the situation.
She's worried that if the Cormorant isn't removed soon, it could sink like it did during the winter of 2015. It cost about a million dollars to clean it up then.
"We need to find a permanent solution to make sure that, you know, we protect the environment, make sure that we're looking after the area that surrounds it, and finally dealing with this once and for all," Jordan said.
Rick Welsford, the president of the Port of Bridgewater, agrees.
The Port of Bridgewater is now responsible for the vessel following a Federal Court order that was issued on Nov. 8. The consent judgment put an end to a legal battle over ownership that had dragged on for years.
Welsford said keeping the case of the Cormoront in the courts wasn't benefiting anyone.
He said he agreed that the Port of Bridgewater would assume ownership on the condition that he can remove some artifacts from the vessel and return them to the navy.
The Cormorant, which was decommissioned in 1997, is now up for sale, he said.
"The port is stuck with it right now, and the port is being blamed for a lot of things that's probably a little bit unfair," Welsford said. "But our priority has been the same as the federal government and the same as the minister's — get it out of there."
Welsford said he wants the vessel removed from the river, whether that means finding a buyer who will scrap it or having the coast guard come in and clean it up.
Our priority has been the same as the federal government and the same as the minister's — get it out of there."- Rick Welsford, president of Port of Bridgewater
Now that the Port of Bridgewater is the owner, that could mean it's also on the hook for the cost of removal. But Welsford said he's not focused on that right now.
"Get the ship away and then we'll figure out at the end of the day who owes who what," he said.
The federal government has greater power to clean up derelict vessels like the Cormorant under The Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, which was championed by Jordan and received royal assent earlier this year.
But the minister said she doesn't have a timeline for when the Cormorant will be removed.
The coast guard's assessment report hasn't been released, and Jordan said work is still being done to analyze the findings and determine next steps.
When asked what impact the potential pollution could have on the river — and the people who use it — Jordan said she doesn't want to wait to find out.
"I don't want to find out what's going to happen if there's a problem. We need to be proactive with it. We need to make sure that we do address the issue with the Cormorant before it becomes a bigger problem," she said.
Welsford said he hasn't seen the coast guard's report so he doesn't know the extent of the pollution threat, although he's asked for more details.
He said removing the Cormorant has been a long and complicated process — and it's not over.
"Those rules are pretty new, and whether it's me or a lawyer or a court judge or the coast guard ... this is a new experience for all of us," he said.
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With files from CBC's Information Morning