Activists rally against ship breaking operation in Union Bay

Community members and activists rallied in Union Bay on Sunday, Oct. 22 to protest a ship breaking facility operating out of Baynes Sound.

The rally took place outside Deep Water Recovery’s headquarters at 5084 Island Hwy. The location was previously used as a log sort, but a company called Deep Water Recovery has been dismantling derelict vessels there since 2020.

Marilynne Manning, a Union Bay resident and member of Concerned Citizens of Baynes Sound, said that this location is not the right one for a big ship breaking operation.

“This is a residential community with small children, it makes no sense. Not to mention the fact that Baynes Sound needs to be protected,” she said.

Canada does not have any federal shipbreaking rules. Gord Johns, the NDP MP for Courtenay-Alberni, has spoken publicly about the issue, calling for a halt to the ship breaking operation in Baynes Sound and more regulation for ship breaking regulation in Canada.

K’ómoks First Nation shared in a press release in Dec. 2021 that they strongly oppose Deep Water Recovery’s operation.

“K’ómoks First Nation (KFN) does not condone Deep Water Recovery LTD and their ship-breaking activities in Union Bay, located within Baynes Sound, which is within KFN’s traditional, unceded territory,” the release stated.

The nation said they shared many of the concerns with Comox Valley Regional District, such as the leaking of toxic chemicals into one of B.C.’s largest shellfish supply areas and an ecologically sensitive area.

Baynes Sound has been named by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as an ecologically sensitive and important area.

As of 2002, about half of B.C.’s shellfish production came from Baynes Sound, according to a government report.

Comox Valley Regional District filed a court proceeding against Deep Water Recovery in April of 2022, stating that ship breaking use is not permitted under the location’s current zoning bylaw. The district is asking a judge to order the company to stop ship breaking on the site.

Deep Watery Recovery issued a response the following month arguing that their activities fall under “boat building and repairs and service and sales, barge facility, waterfront freight handling facility, [and] storage and works yard and warehousing,” which are approved uses in the zoning bylaw.

Mark Jurisich, Deep Water Recovery’s CEO, has previously told Michelle Gamage from The Tyee that since the company mainly dismantles barges and not ships, they do not fall under the category of ship breaking.

Manning said that this isn’t what is actually happening.

“He told the CVRD he was only going to do barges,” said Manning, who added that an end-of-life BC Ferries vessel, The Queen of Burnaby, turned up at the site in 2021.

BC Ferries told CBC News that the ferry has since returned to its refit facility, and that no BC Ferries vessels have been dismantled at the Deep Water Recovery site.

Deep Water Recovery declined The Discourse’s request for comment on this story.

The way the company set up its operations was “really sneaky,” said Dorrie Woodward, a Denman Island resident and chair of the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards.

“It used to be a log sort, right? Log sorts are already pretty touch-and-go.” And it seems to have transformed into what it is now without appropriate oversight, she said.

Another Union Bay resident, Mary Reynolds, is in the process of suing Deep Water Recovery for robbing the drone she was using to film their operation.

In a statement of claim, Reynolds alleges that Jurisich and other employees of Deep Water Recovery repeatedly intimidated and harassed her. On one occasion, Jurisich snatched her drone from the air and took it. It was later returned, but it had been damaged and was inoperable, according to the court document.

Deep Water Recovery denied all of the allegations in a response filed with the court. The company launched a countersuit against Reynolds, accusing her of trespassing on its property and airspace and engaging in a “malicious campaign” against the company. The court proceedings are ongoing.

Both Manning and Reynold’s shared that they understand ship breaking is an important industry that needs to happen, but in a location with a deepwater port with the proper regulations and facilities.

They also called on Canada to implement more regulations for ship breaking, and for more intervention on the work happening at Deep Water Recovery.

“Canada needs to sign the Hong Kong convention,” said Manning.

The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 2009 and aims to ensure that ship recycling did not pose any “unnecessary risk to human health and safety or to the environment.” It is scheduled to come into force in 2025. The Government of Canada says it supports the general intent of the convention, but has not ratified it.

The province found Deep Water Recovery to be out of compliance with rules regarding releasing waste into the environment during three inspections in 2022. Later inspections found that the company had addressed the compliance issue. However, the government issued a $500 administrative penalty earlier this month because the company failed to meet the deadlines for monthly monitoring reports.

Manning also alleged that Deep Water Recovery isn’t properly following the United Nations’ Basel Convention, which was put in place to regulate transboundary movements of hazardous wastes.

The Miller Freeman, an end-of-life American fisheries and oceanography research vessel, caught fire in Seattle in 2013, reportedly spewing toxic chemicals into the air. Then it ended up in the Fraser River, spotted in New Westminster in 2017 and then Maple Ridge in 2019. The Comox Valley Record has previously reported that the Miller Freeman is filled with asbestos.

Vancouver Fraser Port authority sought an injunction against a ship breaking operation in the Fraser River, sharing concerns that the operation was near the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The decision was made in February 2021.

Both Transport Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada shared with The Record that they could not find records of the American ship entering Canada.

Drone footage from Oct. 19 appears to show a hole cut into the side of the Miller Freeman that was not visible in earlier footage.

“Without regulatory oversight, anybody can open up a ship breaking site and we don’t need that,” said Manning.

“The Government of Canada named Baynes Sound in the ecologically sensitive area and yet they allow such a hazardous industry. It just makes absolutely no sense.”

Madeline Dunnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse