If you have called Ladysmith 'home' for any period of time, you've likely heard about a source of concern and frustration for both Council and residents: lot 651, the area of the Ladysmith Harbour known as the "Dogpatch". The Dogpatch is littered with derelict and abandoned boats that aren't only unsightly - they pose a grave threat to our environment and local economies.
For several years, the issue of derelict and abandoned vessels in Ladysmith-area waters has continued to grow, despite repeated requests to the federal government from the Town of Ladysmith, Stz'uminus First Nation and others, including the Ladysmith Maritime Society, for help to resolve this issue. While action is finally being taken, steps forward have been slow and there is still much to be done to protect our waterways. Still, we are encouraged about recent developments and hopeful that the hundreds, possibly thousands, of abandoned and derelict boats across Canada will one day be an unpleasant memory rather than a stark reality.
Image taken in 2011
Earlier this year, Transport Canada announced its five-year, $6.85 million Abandoned Boats Program which provides grant and contribution funding to:
- Assist communities in the assessment, removal and disposal of existing high-priority abandoned and/or wrecked small boats posing hazards in Canadian waters;
- Educate small boat owners about how to responsibly manage their deteriorating vessels; and
- Support research on boat recycling and environmentally responsible boat design.
Recently, the Town applied for funding through the Abandoned Boats Program. In conjunction with the funding proposal, the Town also issued a public notice to take possession and remove vessels under section 20 of the federal Navigation Protection Act. The public notice outlined the Town's plans to remove nine abandoned and wrecked boats from Ladysmith-area waters, unless the owners move the vessels from their current locations to an authorized area. This program, while very positive, unfortunately came too late for the mess created by the sinking of the Anapaya, a century-old wooden vessel that went down in October in the Ladysmith Harbour, leaking fuel and creating environmental and navigational hazards and potentially impacting the Stz'uminus First Nation, who rely on a 150,000 pound annual oyster license in the area. On November 15, a second boat sank only metres away from where the Anapaya used to float.
Only days after the Anapaya sank, the federal government introduced legislation to deal with derelict and abandoned vessels. Bill C-64, the Wrecked,-Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, now makes it illegal to abandon boats, while allowing the government to go after the owners of the hundreds of vessels polluting Canada's waterways. This is an important development because it will entrench into law the Nairobi International Convention of the Removal of Wrecks, which strengthens ship owners' liability for hazardous wrecks resulting from marine incidents.
Image taken in 2011
The national strategy to address Canada's wrecked and abandoned vessels is a positive step in the right direction; however more needs to be done with regard to improvements to licensing. While the new legislation, for example, imposes huge fines on owners of large boats like the Viki Lyne, I am also concerned about the many smaller vessels that litter our harbour. One solution could be a fee applied whenever a boat is registered that would be added to a pool of money earmarked for clean-up costs. Also, the proposed Act doesn't address what can be done to remove the countless boats that have already been abandoned. If the owners are unknown, the cost burden for cleanup and removal falls on taxpayers.
It's also important to mention Bill C-352, a private member’s bill introduced in the House of Commons by Sheila Malcolmson, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Ladysmith. It amends the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 to strengthen the requirements relating to derelict and abandoned boats, designates the Canadian Coast Guard as a receiver of wrecked vessels and requires receivers of wrecked boats to take the necessary steps to identify and locate the owner of the wreck, and provides for the development and implementation of a national strategy to address the abandonment of vessels. Ms. Malcolmson is requesting the Town send a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau to insist that Bill C-352 continue to be debated in the House of Commons despite the introduction of Bill C-64. She has also posted a petition on her website. To add your voice, go to http://sheilamalcolmson.ndp.ca/join-our-campaign-to-clean-up-abandoned-vessels
Image taken in 2011
While this issue isn't new, it is very important and whether we own boats or not, derelict and abandoned vessels ultimately effect us all. Also of note: Council is aware that some people live in the Dogpatch and we would like to work with them to identify affordable, environmentally responsible options. I am very encouraged by the various announcements regarding the federal government's commitment to this matter and look forward to working with MP Sheila Malcolmson, the Ladysmith Maritime Society, our Stz'uminus First Nation neighbours and other stakeholders to ensure our voices are heard now and into the future.
Aaron Stone, Ladysmith Mayor