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Will it Stay or Will It Go?

A new ship breaker wants to take apart an old ferry in Union Bay, but residents are worried about pollution

BC Ferries has to keep its pollution local, no more sending it overseas

When old boats retire, they get broken down and recycled for parts. That is, if they are lucky enough to stay afloat.

But they’re often full of asbestos and other hazardous materials.

The province is letting a company run a ship breaking and recycling business in Union Bay. Local folks aren’t happy.

Locals are worried that breaking the old boat apart will let pollution into nearby waters.

Last week, tugs towed the derelict Queen of Burnaby into Baynes Sound. It’s now moored at a Union Bay dock, near Union Bay Enterprises old log-sorting operation.

She used to be the ferry that ran the Comox-Powell River run. But BC Ferries replaced it with a newer model in 2017.

In 2018, Union Bay Enterprises was sold to Deep Water Recovery, which started a ship-breaking business in 2020. It started by breaking down old barges. But the company wants to start breaking down old vessels.

But locals are concerned about the environmental impacts. Their operation is next to Baynes Sound, one of the most productive shellfish areas on the west coast.

Rob Kerr is one of many local people who are worried that, if this boat is dismantled in the bay, it could affect the water quality. That’s bad for folks’ health and the local shellfish businesses.

“We are very concerned about the environment. Our families swim in these waters and we really believe the government needs to step up and their number one job should be environment and safety,” Kerr told CHEK News.

But according to Mark Jurisich, manager of Deep Water Recovery, ships are almost entirely recyclable.

Jurisich says there are strict environmental regulations to control what shipbreakers can and can’t do.

He added that the local demand for ship breaking is going up. North American shipping companies used to send old boats to be recycled in developing countries. These countries don’t have as many rules to protect people and the environment.

Every year, thousands of North American ships were sent to countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan to be recycled. It’s dangerous work and it doesn’t pay well.

They aren’t allowed to do that anymore.

It’s way better to recycle old boats than to sink them or let them rot on land.

But the only way to make sure nothing toxic gets into the environment is to bring the ship into a dry dock.

Ray John is another concerned Union Bay local. “The research I’ve done in talking with accredited ship breaking facilities is everything is contained…,” he told CHEK News.

”It would be lifted. It would be put into a dry dock or a containment barge so anything that comes off that vessel can go straight into containment.”

But that’s not happening at the Union Bay facility. At least, not so far. The Comox Valley Regional District says the site in Union Bay is not zoned for ship breaking.

“It doesn’t appear that this fits the marine industrial zone the way it was written, so we’re encouraging the operator to work with us on a rezoning application or a temporary-use permit,” said Daniel Arbour, Chair of the Comox Valley Regional District Board, in the CHEK News story.

Technically, Deep Water Recovery doesn’t own this old boat yet. BC Ferries is still trying to sell it. So far it’s just moored in Union Bay.

“We’re planning to recycle the ship here in British Columbia as soon as we can conclude terms with a certified recycling company,” Collins told CHEK News

Sounds like if Deep Water Recovery can’t sort out its zoning permits, BC Ferries will just move the ship somewhere else along the coast.

BC Ferries says it will do background checks on ship recyclers before it choses a buyer.

Maybe they should do those checks before they tug their old boats into someone’s front yard.