Ship dismantling operation in Newfoundland taps into town's ironworking history

·2 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The coast guard manager overseeing the careful dismantling of a shipwrecked fishing vessel in Colliers, N.L. says it's been fascinating to watch the operation — but the best aspect has been the questions from the audience.

Colliers is home to generations of iron and steel workers, pipe fitters and welders, and many have been coming out to watch the Hamilton Banker fishing vessel be slowly taken apart, said Andrew Wakeham, a senior response officer with the Canadian Coast Guard. Their interest in the project, as well as their smart, technical questions, have made the operation "pretty special," Wakeham said.

"They may not do exactly this type of work, but they would work with similar equipment with large cranes, around boats," he said in an interview Monday. "Between the job going well and ... hearing how much they enjoy it, it's been a great couple of weeks."

The Hamilton Banker was built in Norway in 1977 and was registered under Canadian flags, according to marine traffic websites. It had been moored in Colliers since 2006, after it sank that year Conception Bay. But a massive snowstorm in January 2020 — now known locally as "Snowmageddon" — knocked the vessel free and it slammed into rocks, where it has been stuck ever since. Wakeham said there was a risk it would start to leak fuel or other pollutants.

The project to dismantle the wreck and recover its contaminants began about three weeks ago. Divers are threading diamond-tipped wire through the ship's rusted hull to saw through its remnants. Others are using blowtorches to cut through the steel.

"When they cut a section off and lift it up and you can see the inside of a ship that very few people get to see, of course it's great," Wakeham said.

Colliers town councillor Glen McDonald said there's been a steady stream of traffic by the work site since it began.

He agrees the curiosity is likely fuelled by the community's connection to the work: if someone in Colliers isn't an ironworker, boilermaker or pipe fitter, they likely descended from generations of them, he said in an interview Monday. Many in the town had family who worked on buildings in Philadelphia, Boston and New York City, he added. "It's the biggest thing that's happened in Colliers in a while," McDonald said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2022.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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