Feds move to address polluting shipwreck

·4 min read

MARIE JOSEPH – The long and fateful sojourn of MV Caruso, beached below the highway outside this tiny St. Mary’s community, is coming to an end one way or the other.

In a statement to The Journal, the Canadian Coast Guard says, “On January 25, 2021, personnel from the Coast Guard’s Environmental Response branch mobilized to Marie Joseph, Nova Scotia, to conduct bulk pollution removal operations on the MV Caruso,” adding: “Coast Guard is developing a permanent solution to the threat of pollution posed by the vessel.”

According to Lloyd Hines, MLA for Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie and Minister of Transportation and Active Transit (formerly Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal), the Coast Guard’s remediation is a “preliminary step to removing the vessel,” adding: “They came in with hazmat suits. It wasn’t like they were hiding.”

Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s Chief Administrative Officer Marvin MacDonald confirmed that the Coast Guard notified his office in advance and that the move has been in the works for some time. “They told us they were coming to the area to remove fluids,” he says. “It is my understanding that they’ve had a file on Caruso for a while.”

Residents of this coastal village know the boat by its former name, the Sir Charles Tupper, a decommissioned Canadian Coast Guard buoy tender and icebreaker that had been towed into the community’s harbour in 2011 and subsequently hauled onto the shoulder of Highway 7, where it has rusted in the salt air ever since.

Since then, the hulk (and the derelict tugboat Craig Trans, which rests beside it) has been an abiding source of complaint and controversy in this community of fewer than 100.

In 2017, St. Mary’s municipal council issued a statement declaring that it had “concerns regarding the potential risks that these vessels may pose to the surrounding environment and the economic well-being of the area” and that it had shared its concerns with relevant authorities even though it had “no jurisdiction over ocean salvage operations.”

It’s never been entirely clear whether Caruso or Craig Trans are even technically abandoned. Formerly owned and operated by the Government of Canada, they appear to have floated in and out of private hands, like so much driftwood, for years. Meanwhile, neither branch of government has the authority to unilaterally alter or dispose of private property.

Still, MacDonald points out, “The federal government doers have jurisdiction over the water that the boats are in. The owners of [Caruso], whoever they may be, are required to meet the standard and make sure that the environment and the waters there are protected.”

Indeed, according to the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, 2019, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans “may take the measures that he or she considers necessary in respect of the dilapidated vessel or its contents, including repairing, securing, moving or removing the vessel or its contents or selling, dismantling, destroying or otherwise disposing of them.”

Moreover, under a different Act, the Coast Guard can “mobilize” against a vessel that “causes any pollution damage and/or need for cleanup”, according its Emergency Response Levels of Service regulations: “Where the polluter is identified, [we] will advise the polluter of its responsibilities under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and once the polluter’s intentions/plans are known and an On-scene Commander (OSC) is appointed by the polluter, [we] will assume the role of Federal Monitoring Officer. In the event that the polluter is unknown, unwilling or unable to respond, the CCG will assume the role of OSC.”

Regardless, the Caruso’s fate now seems sealed, according to Hines, who says he received first-hand accounts of the Coast Guard’s activities in Marie Joseph last month.

“The federal folks had a lot of personnel, equipment, and vehicles in there for quite a long time,” he reported. “They had a tanker truck in there, and they pumped … [Caruso]… out. They took out the bilge water and, I guess, any other pollutants they came across. They were not sleuthing around.”

Last August, Hines told the Journal: “This [removing Caruso] has been my passion for the last seven years. I see [it] every week when I drive by, and every week [it] drives me crazy.”

In its statement, The Coast Guard says: “The safety of mariners and the protection of the marine environment are the top priorities for the Canadian Coast Guard.”

In an accompanying email, Fisheries and Oceans Communications Advisor Stephen Bornais adds, “Check back with us in a week for an update.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal