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Deadline set for removal of derelict ship docked in Bridgewater for 18 years

The former HMCS Cormorant has been an eyesore on the Bridgewater waterfront for several years. Peter Ziobrowski
The former HMCS Cormorant has been an eyesore on the Bridgewater waterfront for several years. Peter Ziobrowski

The Canadian Coast Guard will issue a request for proposals for the removal of the Cormorant from the Port of Bridgewater.

It will be issued after March 27, the deadline for those with interests in the 74-metre former navy dive vessel to register their claims with the coast guard.

“That will depend on what the RFP (request for proposals) process brings,” federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said when asked what will become of the rusting hulk that has been an unwelcome guest on the LaHave River for 18 years.

One possibility is that the vessel gets towed and scrapped.

“I can tell you this, Marine Recycling Corp. will be a bidder,” said Wayne Elliott, director of business development for the company that recently broke down the former HMCS Athabaskan in Sydney.

The company's yard at Sydport has been idle since the scrapping of the destroyer.

It’s not cheap – Marine Recycling won the Athabaskan contract with a $5.7-million bid to tow the 5,100-tonne vessel from Halifax to Sydney, demilitarize its equipment, remediate hazardous waste and recycle any remaining materials.

“It’s rare not to find PCB contamination on a warship,” said Elliott.

“It can be anywhere from the paint to the wiring to actual devices like transformers, resistors, capacitors. Long before a torch ever gets lit, there is considerable sampling and testing, considerable waste remediation.”

Elliott said he has visited Bridgewater and looked at the Cormorant but hasn't had the opportunity to board the vessel.

Due to its list and deteriorated condition, he warned significant work would go into preparing it to be safely towed.

"There is no rushing these things," said Elliott.

The Cormorant is owned by two companies – the Port of Bridgewater and 3092714 Nova Scotia Limited. Rick Welsford is the only director of both companies.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said she intends to send the cleanup bill to the ship's owner. - File
Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan said she intends to send the cleanup bill to the ship's owner. - File

Last week Welsford told The Chronicle Herald he only accepted ownership of the Cormorant, which was brought to his wharf and left there by an American owner, in the federal court last fall so that he could remove it. He sent a proposal to the coast guard in February to have it cleaned up and towed down to the Caribbean, where it would be sunk and turned into an artificial reef.

Welsford said that plan was frustrated by the coast guard stepping in to secure the Cormorant the same day he accepted ownership – preventing him from showing it to potential buyers or even stepping aboard himself.

Reef plan rejected

His plan to have it turned into an artificial reef was rejected.

“This plan is lacking in overall detail and does not provide a suitable and complete solution to the pollution threat,” reads the response sent by the coast guard’s superintendent of environmental response on Feb. 29 to Welsford’s proposal.

“As it stands (your) intention is to sell the vessel to an unknown party under unknown terms.”

Under the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act passed by her government last year, Jordan has the authority to send the bill for its cleanup to the ship's owner.

On Tuesday, she said that's what she intends to do.

“The costs to coast guard are recoverable through the owner or through the Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund,” said Jordan.

But Welsford said last week that he expects the cost to scrap the Cormorant will exceed the limited assets of the Port of Bridgewater.

The port still hasn’t paid the $375,000 it owes the Ship Source Oil Pollution Fund for the removal of oil and hydraulic fuel from the Cormorant in 2015.

The lead lawyer for that fund, Cameron Grant, said that it is responsible for costs associated with the prevention and cleanup of fuel and oil spills, not for the cost of scrapping vessels.

“The major challenge when you’re trying deal with derelict vessels is if they’re owned by a corporation and that corporation doesn’t have assets, it’s pretty hard to get any money out of it,” said Grant.

Told of the lawyer’s opinion regarding responsibility for costs, Jordan responded, “To me it’s more important that we deal with (the Cormorant) now rather than having to deal with a cleanup later. I don’t want to see that ship sink again.”

The move by Jordan to have the ship removed, whoever pays for it, has been hailed as a positive for Bridgewater by its Mayor David Mitchell.

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