Tamil migrant ship’s fate to be sealed this month, nine years since its arrival
The MV Sun Sea is shown being escorted past Fisgard Lighthouse and into CFB Esquimalt in Colwood, B.C., Friday, Aug. 13, 2010. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
The fate of the MV Sun Sea, the migrant ship that ferried hundreds of Tamil refugees fleeing war in Sri Lanka to Vancouver Island, will be decided by the federal government this month.
The Sun Sea is slated for destruction by a Canadian ship salvage yard after a government tender for the contract expires on May 31.
The arrival of the Sun Sea with nearly 500 Tamil migrants in August 2010 garnered nationwide headlines and quickly touched off a political debate about refugees and immigration that still resonates today.
The rusting cargo ship, meanwhile, sits moored at a Canadian government dock in Delta, B.C., where it was towed after two years at the Nanaimo Shipyards.
With no legal owner and and no one interested in buying it, the nearly 60-metre ship became the property of the Canada Border Services Agency.
A January 2016 study of the vessel found several hazardous materials on board, including asbestos, lead paint, mold, mercury and PCBs.
The CBSA is now searching for a ship-breaking company that can dispose of the vessel before the end of the year.
Government procurement documents stipulate that the Sun Sea must be dismantled and, where possible, recycled in “an efficient and environmentally responsible manner” in accordance with Canadian law.
The documents also bar the Sun Sea from being sold to a third-party broker.
The vessel was deemed safe for towing in 2016, but only within the waters of southern British Columbia and excluding the rugged coastal waters and inlets of western Vancouver Island north of Port Renfrew.
“Therefore, the work must be conducted at an approved site within British Columbia,” reads the government procurement notice.
Given the government’s restrictions on moving the Sun Sea, and its rigorous requirements that the vessel’s component parts — including onboard toxins and hydrocarbons — be thoroughly itemized, assessed for value and disposed of in an environmentally sound way, the cost for rendering the ship into scrap is likely to be high.
In July 2018, it was estimated that storing the Sun Sea had already cost Canadian taxpayers $970,000, prompting some to call for the ship to be stripped of its hazardous materials and scuttled as an artificial reef.
However, an April 18 amendment to the government procurement documents states that artificial reefing is out of the question and reiterates that the vessel “must be fully deconstructed.”
A 2016 report commissioned by Transport Canada to analyze Canada’s overall ship-disposal capacity found just four large-vessel disposal operations in B.C.
The report noted, however, that “there is little appetite amongst these facilities for recycling work due to its relative non-profitability compared to other work streams.”
The current list of interested suppliers for the Sun Sea disposal contract is even shorter, with just two names — only one of whom, Geco Marine Consulting, operates in the southern B.C. region.
The other party is R.J. MacIsaac Construction of Nova Scotia, whose statement of interest stands only as an offer of consulting support for the eventual winner.
With no affiliate operations in B.C., and with towing restrictions limited to southern B.C. waters, the cost of hiring local B.C. subcontractors for the Sun Sea disposal wouldn’t be worth it for such a small ship, according to the company.