A sunken wooden tugboat rests beneath the surface of Vancouver's False Creek near the Plaza of Nations. The old ship has been submerged for days after sinking in the middle of the night.
"A boat develops a flaw in the hull, and it starts taking in water," said Sgt. Darin McDougall of the Vancouver Police Department's marine unit.
Just metres away, an anchored yacht sways in the water. Its controls and steering are gutted. A few cigarette butts are left behind in the cabin sink.
"We think this has become a hangout spot," said McDougall, recalling the last time he visited the ship and found a number of empty beer cans.
Transport Canada says there are dozens of unpermitted vessels sitting in False Creek and English Bay, many of them derelict and likely abandoned.
Between Sept. 14 and Nov. 2, federal officers posted abandoned notices on 24 vessels in the area.
With many falling apart, the federal regulatory agency says the boats pose significant environmental and safety risks.
"If all of a sudden you have 15 or 20 or 30 of those vessels, now they're in the way of boaters who generally want to do the right thing," said Natalie Anderson, navigation protection officer with Transport Canada.
Since July 2019, 46 vessels have been removed — including 20 in False Creek, four in English Bay, and 22 from the rest of the Lower Mainland.
Vancouver Police have helped Transport Canada carry out enforcement. McDougall says tracking down owners is the biggest challenge.
In some cases, they are confrontational with police; in others, they are difficult to track or have abandoned the boat altogether.
"Most of these boats don't have insurance, so there's no incentive for people to register it in their name. So for us to track down who the owner of the boat becomes quite difficult," said McDougall.
A small number of boats have regular residents, while others are also being used as storage, McDougall said, noting officers have found stolen bikes aboard.
"We do have one resident who is constantly bringing bikes onto his boat," he said. "Getting the proper resources, the mental health outreach, the housing outreach to come out and engage is our next step."
Owners who do not comply with Transport Canada orders can be fined up to $50,000. No fines have been issued in the Pacific Region since 2019.