BC Ferries was at one point actively negotiating with Deep Water Recovery, a controversial ship-breaking operation in Union Bay, regarding the dismantling of an end-of-life vessel. That’s according to an email from BC Ferries, obtained through an access to information request.
“Everybody thought it was just here because they didn’t have a place to store it,” said Marilynn Manning, a Union Bay resident and member of Concerned Citizens of Baynes Sound, during a rally against the operation in October. “But we found out through freedom of information that [Deep Water Recovery] was in negotiation to take it apart here.”
Near the end of 2021, The Queen of Burnaby showed up at Deep Water Recovery’s headquarters in Union Bay. The end-of-life BC Ferries vessel was only at the site for about five months, but it was there for long enough to bring up questions from residents.
Deborah Marshall, Executive Director of Public Affairs at BC Ferries, responded to a community member’s inquiry about the vessel in an email on Dec. 6, 2021. “The Queen of Burnaby is being moored by Deep Water Recovery pending the outcome of successful negotiations with the recycling company. If negotiations are not successful, the Queen of Burnaby will not be recycled at that site.”
In the email, Marshall confirmed that the Queen of Burnaby contains asbestos, which is common for vessels of its age.
- Protesters call on governments to end shipbreaking by Baynes Sound
- Comox Valley Regional District says Union Bay shipbreaking not permitted
“Should a contract to recycle the Queen of Burnaby be reached with the recycling company, the recycling company will engage specialized independent British Columbia contractors to manage the remediation of the asbestos in accordance with the laws and regulations of British Columbia,” she wrote.
Marshall did not agree to an interview on this story or answer further questions about BC Ferries’ negotiations or relationship with the company, but confirmed in an emailed response that BC Ferries “did not conclude negotiations with Deep Water Recovery.”
Canada does not have any federal ship-breaking rules. Gord Johns, the NDP MP for Courtenay-Alberni, has spoken publicly about the issue, calling for a halt to the ship-breaking operation in Baynes Sound and more regulation for ship breaking in Canada.
It’s not clear if or how public opposition to Deep Water Recovery’s operations impacted its negotiations with BC Ferries.
K’ómoks First Nation issued a news release on Dec. 16, 2021, affirming its opposition to the ship-breaking activities, which have the potential to impact a significant area of shellfish harvesting. That announcement came just 10 days after the email confirming BC Ferries’ ongoing negotiations with the company.
The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) filed a civil suit against the company in April 2022, asking for an injunction to immediately stop Deep Water Recovery’s operations. The statement of claim asserts that ship breaking is illegal according to zoning laws for the property.
Mark Jurisich, Deep Water Recovery’s CEO, did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. In its response to the lawsuit, the company denies that the operation is illegal, arguing that it falls within “boat building and repairs and services and sales, barge facility, [and] storage and works yard and warehousing,” which are approved activities under the zoning rules.
Jurisich previously told Michelle Gamage from The Tyee that since the company mainly dismantles barges, they do not fall under the category of ship breaking.
Deep Water Recovery has been taking apart derelict vessels in Union Bay since 2020, and continues that work in spite of the legal action and public opposition.
Drone footage from August 2023 shows that there has been new ship-breaking work done on one of the vessels at the site, the Miller Freeman, an end-of-life American fisheries and oceanography research vessel, which contains asbestos.
Amanda Yasinski, CVRD’s senior manager of building and bylaw compliance, said the district is still “actively pursuing this matter through BC Supreme Court,” though no date for a hearing has been set.
Madeline Dunnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse