A dispute in British Columbia, Canada, has revealed gaps in Canada’s shipbreaking regulations, according to environmental activists. They say that a federal law is needed to stop operators exploiting the grey areas when it comes to legal oversight.
Deep Water Recovery on Vancouver Island dismantles old barges and other vessels at its site in Union Bay, British Columbia. Activists claimed that this was a violation of regional and provincial zoning regulations, and that it was endangering an environmentally sensitive area rich with oysters.
Deep Water Recovery has continued operating despite a cease-and-desist order from the province. There were two ships in moorage at Deep Water Recovery on August 15th.
Company director Mark Jurisich has denied various accusations and claimed that he had been subject to a malicious campaign of trespassing and harassment, trying to shut down his business.
The Concerned Citizens of Baynes Sound (CCOBS) has been lobbying against Deep Water Recovery for two years, ever since they saw the first vessels being dismantled on the shores of nearby Baynes Sound, the channel that runs between Vancouver Island and Denman Island.
Environmental lawyer Carla Conkin said that CCOBS was fighting a company that was something of a DIY operation that was breaking down barges and other large vessels on the beach without a dry dock or other internationally accepted safety protocols.
Conkin said that the site also disturbed a creek, and there were concerns about workers living on site in a trailer. “These guys are flying by the seat of their pants on the beach, basically dismantling major sized vessels,” she said.
Deep Water Recovery denied the allegations, claiming to fill “a vital role” in the marine recycling industry and insisting that rules had always been complied with.
The company’s lawyer has vowed to vigorously defend the company.
Part of the problem in Union Bay is the complex nature of the levels of government involved.
The site is overseen by the province, which handles the shoreline, while the regional district oversees the high part of the beach. The federal government, meanwhile, oversees vessels, transport and the environment. Deep Water Recovery arrived on site when it took over a company called Union Bay Industries, which had a 30-year log-salvaging licence. The company shifted into ship dismantling, asking in 2019 for B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to allow the moving and storage of vessels for repair and recycling. Provincial regulators worked with the company and wrote it a new licence in October 2021 tat permitted the movement of ships over the foreshore so they could be dismantled in the higher portion of the site – the bit which falls under regional government jurisdiction.
Conkin claimed that Deep Water Recovery “stepped into the shoes of that log-sorting company and then slipped their way through to getting lease amendments to allow for shipbreaking. The company has been capitalizing on the different levels of government and how they’re not co-ordinating with each other.”
Canada has no federal shipbreaking rules, not least because the industry is minuscule when compared with the major shipbreaking nations of Turkey, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Canadian owners traditionally sent their old vessels overseas, but the increase in the cost of towing and new environmental rules that limited some exports, made the previous situation more complex and more expensive.
Transport Canada has said that countrywide regulations are “under consideration”. There are currently more than 47,321 Canadian-registered vessels, — including 3,054 “large ships” (more than 100 gt) — that at some point will all need to be scrapped. A March 2021 report commissioned by Transport Canada said that Canada was way short of the capacity needed to deal with the vessels that will reach the end of their life between 2021 and 2030.