• James Armstrong

Removal of Kathryn Spirit launches Canadian law prohibiting abandoned vessels


PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Beauharnois residents and visitors will soon have a clear view of the Saint-Lawrence River and Lake Saint-Louis as the remaining vestiges of Kathryn Spirit’s dry dock is removed following the derelict ship’s long-awaited dismantling.

The removal of the Kathryn Spirit, a derelict and abandoned vessel beached on the shores of the Saint Lawrence River in Beauharnois was a catalyst for legislation giving the federal government more control over abandoned vessels in Canadian waterways.

“Disposing of such problem vessels can be very costly with the burden often falling on Canadian taxpayers,” said the Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau at a press conference held on the shore of the river Friday, October 12.

PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau (podium) announced the legacy of the Kathryn Spirit assisted by Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke (centre) and Canadian Coast Guard Superintendent Martin Blouin (right).

Legislation in progress

Bill C-64, the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, prohibits vessel abandonment and increases the liability of vessel owners including requiring mandatory wreck removal insurance.

“This national strategy holds the vessel owners responsible for all the costs of cleaning up an abandoned vessel,” said Garneau. The bill is one of 50 elements in the Oceans Protection Plan that earmarks $1 billion of federal funding to improve the protection of Canadian waterways and coastal areas. The legislation is currently before the Senate awaiting approval before receiving royal assent and becoming law.

The ship in question has been completely dismantled and removed from the location where it sat rusting for almost seven years. All that now remains is the barge that was put in place to support the Kathryn Spirit as she listed toward the shore in her final days.

“Our government promised the people of Beauharnois that we would remove the vestiges of the Kathryn Spirit and that is what we have done,” said the minister.

Environmental impact

“We believe there is no lasting environmental impact from the vessel,” said Garneau adding the federal government conducted regular inspections on an ongoing basis and took the necessary steps to secure the vessel and dispose of all materials in an environmentally secure fashion. When asked if tests had been done to verify air and water quality downstream following a fire sparked by welding equipment on the vessel in April, 2018, the minister replied, “I believe we were very diligent in ensuring the whole process was followed from an environmental point of view as well as in terms of disposing of the Kathryn Spirit.”

Removal price tag

It cost the federal government $11 million to purchase, secure, and remove the Kathryn Spirit, and to return its mooring location to its original natural state according to Garneau.

“Unfortunately, we have hundreds of these situations to deal with. It is the federal government’s intention to deal with these situations,” said Garneau. When asked about the number of abandoned vessels across the country, Garneau replied that an inventory was currently being carried out. As previously reported in The Journal in November, 2016, the number was estimated at around 600.

Response from NDP

New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament for Salaberry-Suroît Anne Minh-Thu Quach, who was at the press conference, disagreed with the federal governments cost for the clean-up.

“It cost $11 million for the dismantling, but the total cost to Canadian taxpayers was nearer $25 million,” said Quach. She pointed out that the company that purchased the grounded vessel was also the company that was paid by the federal government to dismantle the ship. “It was a case of the polluter being paid rather than the polluter having to pay,” she said. “We put pressure on the Conservative government in 2011 to take the lead on protecting a potable water supply for the region,” she added.

Federal priorities

“Our priority, when coming into office, was to rectify the situation,” responded Vaudreuil-Soulanges MP Peter Schiefke who accompanied Minister Garneau. Schiefke recounted how members of parliament from the local ridings and mayors of the area had all wanted the situation rectified.

“We can’t turn back the clock on the way things were before. Our priority is to move forward with legislation to make sure our oceans are protected and our communities kept safe,” he said. “Our job is to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

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