Decommissioned B.C. ferry concerns Island residents; facility owner says he's providing necessary service
A long-retired B.C. ferry arrived on the shore of the Comox Valley this week and has already begun turning heads and raising environmental concerns.
Daniel Arbour is the Area A director for the Comox Valley Regional District. He says he has been hearing concerns from local residents about the Queen of Burnaby since it was first noticed being towed to Union Bay.
“(We’re hearing) lot of environmental concerns,” Arbour says. “People are used to seeing reports of ships breaking apart at operations in Bangladesh and Pakistan.”
The vessel, decommissioned by BC Ferries back in 2017, has been moored in Richmond but was towed to Union Bay on Nov. 29. It’s now located at a property that was formerly used as a log sorting facility.
“There’s been a change in the foreshore licence and the province re-categorized it in mid-October from ’log sort’ to ‘general industrial,’” Arbour says. “So, that would allow ships to come there and be moored and then I guess the hope of the enterprise would be that they can then do ship deconstruction on their lot.”
Arbour says there was little public engagement about the change and says the regional district is looking into how it happened.
“In our opinion, this likely requires a rezoning and a temporary use permit for the activities on the land, and for the marine side we really need to have discussions about how these decisions are arrived at within the ministry.”
The operator of Deep Water Recovery, which is now mooring the vessel on behalf of BC Ferries, says there is a definite need for facilities like his to dispose of old vessels.
“We’re told by the coast guard there’s over 900 vessels charted around the coast here that are vessels of concern, derelict vessels,” says manager Mark Jurisich. “So, whether it be us or somebody else, at some point, somebody has to really be aggressive dealing with the problem.”
Jurisich says his own company had to dispose of some of its old vessels, but had trouble finding a location to do so. The company has now made a significant investment in order to do it themselves. He says others have now approached him for assistance.
“We spoke to some of the larger people here, like (BC) Ferries, and there was no solution, so we ended up buying this property, which is zoned industrial and marine and we accepted that we would have to do this work ourselves,” Jurisich says.
He says he’s providing a local solution to the derelict vessel problem.
“It’s no longer acceptable to be sending these things offshore,” he says. “Everybody’s seen the videos of people walking around in flip-flops and gas torches, a lot of people have been hurt, so developed companies have said, ‘that’s enough.’”
The company cuts old vessels and barges into scrap metal, which is then shipped to Seattle, processed into rebar, and then shipped back into Canada.
He says the recyclability of the vessels is upwards of 99 per cent.
Jurisich disputes any claims the company is creating environmental problems.
“There’s nothing on these vessels,” he says. “Whether they be sitting here or somewhere else, if they were leeching something anywhere, coast guard, Transport Canada, Environment Canada are going to be on top of it immediately.”
Jurisich showed CTV News two large containers filled with booms and other equipment he says are there in case of any spills or incidents – equipment he believes will never be necessary.
”We have a very, very stringent environmental plan,” he says. “All the hydrocarbons need to be removed before the vessels come in here. The barges obviously don’t have anything on them.”
Mark Collins, president and CEO of BC Ferries, says there originally was a buyer for the Queen of Burnaby, but that deal fell through and the vessel was being stored at the company’s maintenance facility in Richmond. Collins says it had to be moved elsewhere to make room for the upcoming refit season.
“We’ve decided, ‘Yes, the ship is going for recycling.’ We always knew we would recycle the ship and the way it works is, you sell the ship to a certified recycler for dismantling,” Collins says.
He says no decision has been made on where the ship will be recycled, but says it will be done responsibily.
“Ships – like cars and buildings and everything else – must be dismantled and properly recycled and disposed of at the end of their life, and that’s what BC Ferries is seeking to do,” he says.