A controversial ship-breaking business near Union Bay is in the news again. The K’omoks First Nation and the Concerned Citizens of Baynes Sound are calling it an “environmental disaster waiting to happen.”
Union Bay Industries owns the land in question. They lease the property to Deep Water Recovery (DWR), an American company with a Union Bay address.
Aerial photos showed two decommissioned ships moored at a dock and a third one being busted up on land. Last fall, the operation drew criticism when tugs towed the derelict BC Ferries Queen of Burnaby into Baynes Sound.
Shipbreaking is hazardous to both human health and the marine environment because of asbestos and other potentially toxic materials found on old ships. That’s why most ship-breaking happens in developing countries with no or weak environmental laws.
In their presentation last Monday to the Comox Valley Regional District, Concerned Citizens said the company is operating in violation of the foreshore lease granted by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development for an old log-sorting operation.
They are asking the CVRD to immediately issue a “cease and desist order” to the shipbreaker.
Group spokesperson Ray Rewcastle pointed out that Canada has no specific shipbreaking regulations, unlike the US, which has strict federal standards.Rewcastle also questioned why the CVRD is allowing this operation to continue.
“There is no safe way to conduct shipbreaking in Baynes Sound,” Rewcastle said in a recent Black Press report,
Baynes Sound is home to a lucrative shellfish industry, and is also lined with homes on both Vancouver Island and Denman Island.
The dirty business of shipbreaking is under increasing scrutiny worldwide, but the rules appear lax and enforcement weak here on Vancouver Island. Due to safety concerns, the European Union established rules and accreditation for shipbreaking businesses, only one of which is certified in North America.
According to Rewcastle, when the citizens’ group contacted the Brownsville operation, they were surprised shipbreaking was allowed on BC’s West Coast.
Daniel Arbor is the CVRD director for Area A, which includes Denman Island, Hornby Island, and Union Bay. He says citizen concerns are valid and need answers. But so far, they aren’t getting any.
However, Area C director Edwin Grieve says it’s a provincial responsibility that has been shunted off to local governments.
“So we’re dealing with a foreign company that has no ties to the local community,” Grieve said. “We’ve been dealing in good faith for a number of months, and there’s no progress. And it looks like senior government are just playing footsies on this one, and kicking it down to the lowest level of government, which of course is us.”