I gave the following speech on Thursday, Feb. 27th, in the House of Commons on Bill C-638, an act to amend the Canada Shipping to give the Canadian Coast Guard the regulatory power to take action before a derelict vessel becomes a problem.
Mr. Speaker, I begin my speech on the topic of ship wrecks/and derelict vessels with cannibal rats.
More specifically, Canadian cannibal rats, that should get everyone’s attention, Mr. Speaker.
Not every day Canadian cannibal rats make it to a speech in this honourable House.
How’s this for a headline, Mr. Speaker, "Ghost ship crewed only by cannibal rats feared to be heading for Scottish coast", that’s from the Scottish Daily Record.
Or this headline, Mr. Speaker, from the Plymouth Herald, "Ghost ship full of cannibal rats could be about to crash into Devon coast."
Finally, hedging its bets, Thisiscornwall.com declared, “Ghost ship full of diseased cannibal rats could crash into coast of Devon or Cornwall.”
Now, Mr. Speaker Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are known far and wide as the friendliest people on the planet.
But sending a ghost ship full of cannibal, diseased rats across the North Atlantic is no way to treat your European neighbours.
We’re better than that, Mr. Speaker.
The ghost ship crewed by cannibal rats was the Lyubov Orlova, a 38-year-old, 4,250 ton Russian cruise ship that was tied up in St. John’s harbour for two years.
It was tied up for two years, Mr. Speaker, after it was apprehended by the RCMP after a financial scandal involving the boat’s European owners.
The ship was an eyesore, a rusty dirty smudge on the St. John’s waterfront for months, nothing, apparently, could be done.
Then, finally Mr. Speaker, in January 2013, the Orlova was being towed to the Dominican Republic, where it was to have been taken apart for scrap.
But the ship was only out of St. John’s harbour for a day, Mr. Speaker, when the tow line broke.
In the words of our then Transport Canada critic Olivia Chow, Transport Canada should never have "given a licence to allow an unreliable and unsafe tugboard to tug the Orlova in the first place."
But that’s another story, Mr. Speaker.
The ship drifted for a week towards offshore oil platforms on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland — and that was a real risk, Mr. Speaker — before it was towed clear by an offshore supply boat.
The Orlova was then towed by a vessel hired by Transport Canada but that tow line also broke.
And the ship — full of Canadian cannibal rats, if you believe the headlines, Mr. Speaker — drifted into international waters, where it made international headlines for the threat that it was to the Scotish and Irish coasts.
In that it could crash into them, Mr. Speaker.
Now the ship eventually sank, Mr. Speaker, or that’s the widespread belief.
Keep in mind it’s a ghost ship.
The story of the Orlova is a bizarre one, Mr. Speaker.
The story of the Orlova comes across as a Canadian joke, ut it’s not funny, Mr. Speaker.
Far from it, the Orlova was an eyesore in St. John’s harbor for months and months.
The ship was a threat to our offshore oil platforms, a threat to shipping, a threat to the British coast.
Which brings us, Mr. Speaker, to this private member’s bill – Bill C-638 — an act to amend the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.
Which my party supports, Mr. Speaker.
If this bill were in effect when the Orlova was still around, Mr. Speaker, the world could have been spared the suspense of where the trans-Atlantic cannibal rat ship from Newfoundland and Labrador would end up.
This bill would give the Canadian Coast Guard the regulatory power it needs to take action before a derelict vessel becomes a problem.
Mr. Speaker, Derelict vessels are a growing problem across Canada with the aging of both industrial and pleasure craft.
In 2013, the Canadian Boating Association estimated that there were 4.3 million boats in Canada.
The number of derelict and abandoned vessels was pegged at 240 in November 2012, with the majority on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
Normally, Mr. Speaker, only a vessel that is an immediate hazard to navigation or the environment will be dealt with by any level of government.
That leaves derelict vessels — like the Orlova — in a grey zone.
No one is responsible, Mr. Speaker, for preventing them from deteriorating and becoming a problem.
This bill, Mr. Speaker, will designate the Canadian Coast Guard as the receiver of a wreck for the purposes of the Canada Shipping Act, allowing the Coast Guard to take action without being directed by a ministry.
It will also compel the government, Mr. Speaker, to create regulations for the removal, disposition and destruction of derelict vessels or wrecks.
Now, Mr. Speaker, giving the Coast Guard the authority to deal with derelict vessels is only a first step.
The honourable member for Nanaimo-Cowichan who tabled this bill — and a fine member she is, Mr. Speaker — wanted to create a derelict vessel removal regime similar to that in Washington State.
There — a fee on the annual vessel registration helps pay for the costs of removal of derelict vessels — and a single public agency, the Department of Natural Resources, is responsible for administering the program.
But that was beyond the scope of a Private Member’s Bill, Mr. Speaker.
So, Mr. Speaker, we have this first step — a Private Member’s Bill that gives the Canadian Coast Guard the power to take action before a derelict vessel becomes a problem.
Now to elaborate on what happens in Washington State, the abandoned and derelict vessels program there has been in place for 10 years and resulted in the remediation of roughly 500 vessels.
There are signs we may be headed in that direction, Mr. Speaker.
In a letter to the honourable member for Nanaimo-Cowichan, the federal Transport Minister stated that Transport Canada will be, “further analyzing wider policy options related to derelict, abandoned and wrecked vessels, including legal authorities and governance models.”
Mr. Speaker, my party will be keeping an eye on that to make sure there’s follow through.
Mr. Speaker, I also have an example of an abandoned vessel in the waters off Newfoundland’s northeast coast that has been an environmental hazard for years.
That has been leaking oil for years, Mr. Speaker.
And this Conservative government has failed — to date — to fix the problem — permanently.
The Monolis L, a paper carrier, sank 30 years ago this year in the waters of Notre Dame Bay with 500 tonnes of fuel on board, Mr. Speaker.
The wreck sat dormant for years, but a powerful storm two years ago dislodged the vessel.
It also dislodged that 500 tonnes of fuel in the vessel’s hull.
Last year, the Canadian Coast Guard replaced a cofferdam, a devise that catches leaking oil, in order to stop a leak of fuel.
But that’s not a permanent solution, Mr. Speaker.
Oil-covered ducks and other animals have been discovered in the area, and with eastern Canada’s largest seabird colony just 100-kilometres away, people are worried.
So they should be, Mr. Speaker.
In the words of local resident David Boyd, “The patient is slowly bleeding out and we’re putting a Band-aid on it rather than going in and doing the operation that needs to be done.”
Mr. Speaker, the operation that needs to be done is the removal of that oil.
There’s no consistency in this country, Mr. Speaker.
A couple of years ago the Canadian Coast Guard launched a major operation to extract hundreds of tonnes of fuel from a U.S. Army transport ship that sank in 1946 off British Columbia’s remote north coast.
No consistency, Mr. Speaker — the oil aboard the Monolis L must be cleaned up — permanently.
Why would they clean up a wreck off the B.C. coast and not off the Newfoundland coast?
First things first though, Mr. Speaker. Let’s pass this bill and give the coast guard the regulatory power it needs before a derelict vessel becomes a problem.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.