The government have announced new laws to crack down on shipwrecks and mariners abandoning their vessels.
As part of the five-year $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, Bill C-64: the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act has been passed which increases owner liability and sanctions the removal of hazardous or abandoned boats.
Canada is not the only country keen to map and remove shipwrecks. The Spanish government, in a slightly more romantic initiative, announced that they have completed the first phase in their efforts to map 681 of their sunken galleons in the Caribbean and off the Eastern U.S. seaboard. Many of the ships are believed to contain religious artifacts, mercury, cloth and gold. Reports say that 91.2 per cent of the ships were found have been destroyed by severe weather, 4.3 per cent ran on to reefs or had other navigational problems, and 1.4 per cent were lost to naval battles with other countries’ navies. Only 0.8 per cent are thought to have been sunk by pirates.
On the Saanich Peninsula, the act is of interest to local mariners. Swartz Bay and Piers Island wharves Commissioner Mike Smart is frustrated with people who abandon their boats.
“Any sort of cleaning up of dumped or derelict boats is time well spent,” he said. “There isn’t a junkyard facility for people who abandon their boats.”
The act prohibits vessel abandonment and brings into Canadian law the International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007. It also seeks to addresses irresponsible vessel management and enables the government to remove problem vessels. Individuals failing to comply with the act could get hit with a $50,000 fine, while companies could have to pay $250,000. Regulatory offence prosecution rises to a maximum fine of $1 million for individuals and $6 million for companies.
In 2017, the government launched two short-term funding programs to support coastal communities in removing and disposing of smaller high priority vessels. This was part of a national strategy and the programs were called Transport Canada’s Abandoned Boats Program and Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Abandoned and Wrecked Vessels Removal Program.
“Abandoned and wrecked vessels can pose hazards, clutter our shorelines, affect sensitive marine habitats and species, and disrupt community activities. This strengthened legislation ensures these problems are addressed quickly, before they become more serious,” said Jonathan Wilkinson the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
To date, funding has been approved to assess 87 boats for a total of $267,560, and to remove 44 boats for a total of $597,993.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Abandoned and Wrecked Vessels Removal Program is providing up to $1.325 million to Harbour Authorities and other eligible parties to remove and dispose of wrecked vessels located in federal small craft harbours. So far, 23 boats have been removed and disposed of across Canada through the program, and funding has been awarded to gain possession of an additional 11 vessels.