Derelict vessels should fall under federal jurisdiction

Private member's bill making Coast Guard the sole receiver of wrecks should be salvaged

Saanich council has been forced to wade into tricky waters as it attempts to deal with the issue of derelict vessels abandoned off local shores.

Council approved a motion to remove a pair of boats that have been washed up along the shoreline of Cadboro Bay since being caught in heavy storms at the beginning of December. It is expected to cost the district more than $15,000 to cover the removal of the boats as well as disposal fees at Hartland landfill.

“It’s a jurisdictional nightmare, but the buck has to stop, so it stops here,” said Mayor Richard Atwell. “But we shouldn’t be dealing with every washed-up boat at council on a boat-by-boat basis.”

While we admire Atwell’s resolve in taking responsibility for the situation, we would disagree on where responsibility ultimately rests. The waters off Cadboro Bay are a federal responsibility. Abandoned and derelict vessels pose a serious threat to the environment, and that environment impacts each and every Canadian, not just those in the immediate vicinity.

Unfortunatley, the Coast Guard has rejected a call from Saanich for it to share in the cost of cleanup.

“One of the Coast Guard’s issues is they’re [too] underfunded to deal with these,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff. “Gone are the days when the Coast Guard can deal with abandoned boats.”

A private member’s bill came before Parliament last year that, if passed, would have made the Canadian Coast Guard the sole receiver of wrecks, taking responsibility for aging, abandoned boats in the country. Unfortunately, the previous Conservative government scuttled any chance for the bill to move ahead.

But there is a new hand at the rudder in Ottawa, and there is every indication that the new government will be less inclined to shirk federal responsibilities.

Victoria MP Murray Rankin was a vocal supporter of the previous private member’s bill. Saanich council would be well advised to see if one of the local MPs might bring the matter back before Parliament.