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Derelict barges sinking off Chemainus shows feds' lack of action on ditched boats

Another of these dumped barges off Chemainus is sinking and being pumped using public dollars, while local leaders demand derelict-vessel legislation, with teeth, from Ottawa. - Peter W. Rusland file
Another of these dumped barges off Chemainus is sinking and being pumped using public dollars, while local leaders demand derelict-vessel legislation, with teeth, from Ottawa.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland file

A sinking feeling continues in Chemainus as barge three sinks, and Cowichan leaders demand federal action about derelict boats.

A staffer at Chemainus Health Care Centre confirmed Thursday support vessels were pumping water from one of two abandoned, Second World War-era docks left in Mural Town’s harbour.

Two others sit on the bottom; a fifth was towed to Ladysmith months ago.

That expensive irresponsibility miffed MP Jean Crowder, and Mayor Jon Lefebure.

“Transport Canada has to pay to pump them, to keep them afloat,” said Lefebure, who had no exact pump-out costs to taxpayers.

Crowder said from Ottawa she aimed to anchor her proposed private member’s bill — to nationally ban and punish owners parking boats — in Parliament during the fresh sitting by working with the transport and fisheries ministers.

“I hope to raise it with the ministers. Overall responsibility is with transport minister Denis Lebel,” she said.

The mayor’s personal message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper was simple.

“Please recognise Jean’s work, and the fact we, as coastal community, really need the federal departments to step up and deal with this serious problem.

“It can be far better dealt with before these vessels go down, than afterward.”

Crowder also aims to approach fisheries and oceans minister Keith Ashfield, whose turf covers the Coast Guard as environmental watchdogs.

“Lebel’s responsibilities are navigable waters and whether it’s a maritime obstruction. That’s where changes have to happen in Canada’s Shipping Act.

Lebel aside, “we also want the Coast Guard responsible as a focal point when vessels get into trouble.”

Closer to Cowichan, “This issue may also come up at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (convention),” Crowder said, “because it’s such a serious problem on the coast.”

She also cited the fuel-filled Dominion sitting in Cowichan Bay for the past five years.

The mayor pointed to huge abandoned hull that reached Penelakut Island’s Native shores in recent years. It has since been removed.

“That offends me just as it does having a derelict boat in our harbour.

“It’s legitimate for us to expect the feds to recognize this situation and deal with it.”

Lefebure was sick of buck-passing.

“It’s pushed between different federal departments because they don’t necessarily have the budget to deal with (derelict ship laws).

“They’re apparently not looking to be responsible.

“When this Chemainus Harbour problem started, we immediately got onto the provincial and federal governments.”

Transport Canada responded to prevent the barges from becoming a navigational danger, he explained.

“Apparently, the harbour’s deep enough so (the two sunk) aren’t navigational hazards.

“The two left could affect navigation into Chemainus Harbour if they break loose.”

Crowder cited Washington State’s derelict-ship fund to bankroll the securing and pumping of dumped boats, then finding owners under U.S. Coast Guard action.

“They have a model for us to follow.”

An informal inventory of parked vessels, just the south coast, tallied some 200 crafts, she noted.

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