Owner of sunken tugboat harboured in Squamish cannot sue Coast Guard

The Canadian federal court has barred the owner of tug ELF, which sunk in Howe Sound British Columbia, in 2014 from taking the Canadian Coast Guard to trial. Robin Beasse applied for a summary trial on the basis that the Coast Guard was responsible for the loss of his vessel.

The ELF sank in Squamish in January 2014. The Coast Guard raised the boat and towed it, but it then sank a second time near Point Atkinson, BC, where it remained.

Authorities put the cost of another raising at between C$650,000 and C$2m. In 2018, the federal court ordered Beasse to pay more than $82,000 in clean-up costs as the result of the ship sinking. After that decision, Beasse asked the court to grant him a summary trial against the Coast Guard with respect to the Elf. Beasse submitted that, when the Coast Guard took possession of the Elf after the first sinking, it subsequently became liable for the second sinking.

Justice Glennys McVeigh disagreed with Beasse’s reasoning and dismissed the motion for a summary trial. “The plaintiff points towards no clear and specific act of incompetency by the [Coast Guard] but, rather, asserts broadly that the [Coast Guard] failed in its duty of care,” said McVeigh in her judgment, continuing:. “I do not see how this argument can succeed.”

McVeigh also said that the Coast Guard acted in a responsible manner, reasonably and with due diligence.

She noted that no repairs were done to the boat — which was built in 1902 — since Beasse acquired the vessel from its previous owners in 2012. “He was aware of wood rot in the superstructure of the ELF, yet did not have it repaired,” McVeigh said. “Below the waterline, the hull had not been examined or inspected by a marine surveyor or anyone else either before or after it was purchased in October 2012.” Before sinking, the ELF was moored alongside a barge known as the King Arthur, located in the Mamquam Blind Channel. The barge was owned by Squamish resident Steen Larsen. According to the judge’s written ruling, Larsen initially identified himself to Coast Guard officials as the owner of the Elf before Beasse arrived at the scene of the first sinking in Squamish. The court found that Larsen had use of the Elf in exchange for looking after it, but did not have ownership of the vessel.