Shellfish business owner Keith Reid said if the 100-foot Silver King (the tug above, pictured Saturday) sinks, he’s been told by Environment Canada the area could be closed for shellfish operations for at least a year.

Shellfish operations in jeopardy: two derelict boats sink in Deep Bay, another taking on water

At least 40 full-time jobs in the shellfish industry on the line — MP Gord Johns expected to visit the site Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.

Two derelict boats have sunk in 80 feet of water in Deep Bay, raising concerns about how the fuel they had aboard could affect nearby shellfish operations.

The Canadian Coast Guard responded quickly Friday by placing a boom around the cluster of boats, sending officers from French Creek aboard the Cape Cockburn. The coast guard was back at the scene Saturday — only 100 metres offshore from Vancouver Island University’s Marine Field Station.

Bill Veenhof, the chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo’s board of directors and the area rep for Deep Bay, has been at the marina both days. He said the 70-foot wooden tug Lorna Foss sunk to the bottom, dragging a 30-foot sailing vessel with it. It was originally thought the vessels were tied to the 100-foot tug Silver King, which was listing Friday but the coast guard’s efforts the last few days have kept it above water.

Stellar Bay Seafoods and Odyssey Seafoods have a hatchery, nursery and farms within 200 metres of the sunken vessels and the cluster of derelict boats. There are other, smaller oyster farms in the same proximity to Deep Bay and the derelicts.

“There’s a lot riding on this,” the owner of Stellar Bay and Odyssey, Keith Reid, told The NEWS on Monday morning. “We were told by Environment Canada that if that big vessel (the 100-foot tug Silver King) was to go down they would have no option but to close the Deep Bay area for shellfish for a year, which would essentially put us out of business.”

Reid said 40 people are employed full time by his companies. He also said 50 million oysters a year go through his Deep Bay facilities.

“We’ve been fighting this battle (about derelict boats) for eight or nine years now and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it,” said Reid.

Veenhof said trying to identify ownership of what have been called “derelict” vessels have proven difficult over the years.

“That’s part of the problem,” said Veenhof, who said Monday morning that MP Gord Johns was to visit the scene today (Tuesday).

On Saturday, Veenhof said he was more concerned about any fuel aboard the vessels, especially the ones that have sunk. He said there was a “slick” in the water Friday, likely diesel, much of which he estimated would have evaporated on Friday, the sunniest, warmest day in the region to date in 2016.

Washington State has a fee attached to boating licences that basically funds salvage operations. Through a private members’ bill, MP Sheila Malcolmson (NDP — Nanaimo-Ladysmith) has been trying to get both the former Conservative and current Liberal governments to fund the coast guard for these salvage operations.

“For too long, responsibility for abandoned vessels and the risks they represent has been shuffled from one government department to the next, with no senior government taking responsibility,” Malcolmson said in the House of Commons in February. “This bill continues the work done by former MP Jean Crowder so we can finally get to work dealing with these vessels and protecting our harbours and waterways from contamination and debris.”

Former Conservaive MP John Duncan (Comox) favoured the Washington State model. Veenhof would just like those boats out the marina area and away from the shellfish operations.

“Sheila Malcolmson’s bill is s step in the right direction and needs to be supported, but honestly it’s about the money,” said Veenhof. “We have to find a funding line.”

Veenhof also said he’s heard stories about the successes in Washington State.

“They have a barge with an excavator attached to it and last year they removed 300 vessels,” said Veenhof.

UPDATE: here’s a news release (unedited) received by The NEWS from Canadian Coast Guard communications officer Dan Bate at 10 a.m. Monday:

“ At approximately 8:00am on Friday April 1st, the Canadian Coast Guard received a report that two derelict vessels, one a 63ft tugboat Lorna Foss and a smaller 30ft sailboat had sunk at Deep Bay, an area approximately 60 kilometers north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Both had been tied to a larger tugboat the Silver King.”

“The Canadian Coast Guard tasked crews from CCG Station French Creek and CCG Environmental Response from Victoria to confirm the report and conduct an initial analysis. The French Creek lifeboat (CCGS Cape Cockburn) was on scene by 10:20 am, deploying boom around the area to contain any potential upwelling of fuel.”

“CCG Environmental Response contracted with Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCRMC) to conduct booming, containment and recovery operations. WCRMC stood down as there was no evidence of recoverable fuel. It was noted that the tug Lorna Foss had only residual fuel on board at that time, hence the minimal release upon sinking.”

“CCG received reports on Saturday that the vessel Silver King was taking on listing and in danger of sinking. CCG Station French Creek attended the area on Saturday to pump out water from the vessel and close hatches on the deck. This is the same vessel which CCG Environmental Response removed up to 6000 litres of oil and oily water in from in July 2014.”

“CCG Environmental Response will continue to monitor the area. Absorbent boom will stay in place through the near term.”

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