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2 Countries Struggle to Sink Ship

Monday, March 3, 2014

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A 50-year-old former Canadian naval ship may have found herself a new home—at the bottom of the ocean off Southern California. 

The group California Ships to Reefs is working to acquire the HMCS Annapolis, a 366-foot-long Royal Canadian Navy destroyer. The ship was launched in 1963 and decommissioned in 1996. 

However, the ship is currently tied up in a mess of legal woes in Canada, and an inspection report found some of the ship's paint to be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

HSCM Annapolis
Wikimedia Commons / Bbaumgardner

A California group is trying to acquire the HMCS Annapolis, a decommissioned Canadian destroyer, shown here in 1995 near Pearl Harbor) to sink it in an underwater recreation area.

On Wednesday (Feb. 26), the San Diego City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee unanimously approved a proposal to sink the ship in an underwater recreation area off of Mission Beach. The vote allows environmental reviews to commence, SanDiego6.com reported

Ship's Struggles

The ship would be the second ex-Canadian vessel at the San Diego Underwater Recreation Area, a 450-acre location that allows for ships, vessels and other objects to be placed on the ocean floor. (In July 2000, a similar ship, the HMCS Yukon, was sunk in the area.)

The goal is to sink the ship in September or October. But first, the entire City Council and California Coastal Commission will have to approve the plan.

Meanwhile, however, efforts are still underway in Canada to attempt to sink the ship there as an artificial reef—a plan that has struggled to take off for several years. 

In 2008, the ship was sold to the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia. The society planned to prepare and clean the ship before sinking her as an artificial reef in Halkett Bay, located off Gambier Island north of Vancouver.

The society planned to sink Annapolis in 2010, but the Bay's advocates have fought the move, expressing concern about the possible release of PCBs, mercury and other contaminants, according to TheGlobeandMail.com

Contaminants Onboard

The concerns about contamination caught the attention of Canada's environmental agency, launching an inspection of the ship.

At that point, the ship had already undergone hunderds of hours of cleaning and stripping, primarily performed by volunteers. On Feb. 21, however, Coastreporter.net reported that "dangerous levels" of PCBs were found onboard Annapolis when Environment Canada performed a formal inspection in May 2013. 

Environment Canada released the results of its inspection Feb. 12, according to the news site, along with a tender notice for interested contractors. 

The notice stated, "PCBs in solid matrix form have been identified in the interior insulation and in coatings of two compartments in the vessel. Based on the results of sample testing, it is believed that the majority of the vessel's insulation contains a concentration of solid PCBs below 50 parts per million (ppm) and no point or concentration greater than 400 ppm."

Nonetheless, a message posted on the society's website Wednesday sounded positive for the ship's future in Canada.

"Now that the Federal Government has been engaged to assist in the remediation of the ship, we have turned a critical corner in the history of the Annapolis project," wrote Rick Wall, the project's director.

Wall wrote that the society would define and identify the next steps to plan the "remaining tasks and operations that will lead us to sinking the ship this summer." 

Annapolis Reef Society of B.C.
Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia

About 1,000 volunteers have spent hundreds of hours cleaning up the ship for the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. in order to sink it as an artificial reef near Vancouver. The project has been postponed several times and is currently the center of a lawsuit.

Neither Wall nor California Ships to Reefs immediately responded Friday (Feb. 28) to questions about whether the San Diego City Council committee's approval will affect the society's efforts. 

'Non-Confidence' in Society

Contaminated paint is only one of the problems Annapolis faces. She is also currently at the center of a legal battle between the Artificial Reef Society and Wesley Roots, owner of contractor WR Marine Services. 

The ship is under court oversight in Canada after Roots placed an arrest warrant on the ship in the Federal Court of Canada and filed a lawsuit against the Artificial Reef Society, alleging it owes him nearly $100,000 in unpaid moorage fees.

According to Nsnews.com, Roots filed the suit April 23, 2013, asking for:

  • A minimum of $95,240 in damages;
  • A declaration that he holds a maritime lien on the ship, giving him ownership until the debt is paid;
  • An order restraining the Artificial Reef Society from working on the ship without his consent; 
  • Costs from the court action; and 
  • Interest of 2 percent per month, or an Admiralty interest at prime rate compounded semi-annually.

Plan C

Meanwhile, the Underwater Council of British Columbia, a non-profit society that promotes recreational diving, met Feb. 17 in Vancouver to consider a proposal for yet another alternative sinking site, a plan to complete work on the ship, and a motion of non-confidence in the Artificial Reef Society. 

According to the Underwater Council's pre-meeting memo, Roots has said that he would be willing to drop his suit if there was an agreeable management plan to sink the ship as an artificial reef in Vancouver area waters, including an alternative site in the Halkett Bay. 

"The [Artificial Reef Society] has declined invitations by the [Underwater Council] and Mr. Roots to meet and resolve their concerns ...," the memo stated. 

The council said that about 1,000 volunteers had spent a large amount of time and resources trying to ready the ship, with several volunteers logging more than 700 hours. 

Now What?

Considering how many volunteer hours have gone into the ship, California Ships to Reefs says it doesn't want to see her end up scrapped, so the group is working to acquire the vessel and tow it to San Diego.

Before that can happen, however, the ship would have to be inspected by Canadian and U.S. authorities and be drydocked for hull cleaning and paint removal. 

Explosives would be used to sink the ship, which would then be inspected for safety before being opened to divers. 

In a Facebook post last May, California Ships to Reefs said it would launch a fundraising campaign to obtain the ship. 

   

Tagged categories: Laws and litigation; Marine; Marine Coatings; Shipyards

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