PCBs found on ship destined for artificial reef

Christine Wood/Staff Writer / Staff writer
February 21, 2014 01:00 AM

Dangerous levels of PCBs have been found onboard the HMCS Annapolis so Environment Canada is looking for contractors to remove the contaminant before sinking the ship to create an artificial reef.

Dangerous levels of PCBs have been found onboard the HMCS Annapolis. Environment Canada is looking for contractors to remove the contaminant before sinking the ship to create an artificial reef.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are industrial chemicals that were widely used in manufacturing until the late 1970s when their negative health effects started becoming known.

PCB exposure has been linked to decreased thyroid function, decreased immunity and even cancer.

The HMCS Annapolis, a 115-metre decommissioned warship, was proposed as an artificial reef by the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. (ARSBC) in 2009. The group pitched the sinking for Halkett Bay (off the southeastern shore of Gambier Island), and volunteers started what would be thousands of hours of work to strip the ship.

A group called Save Halkett Bay formed to oppose the sinking, saying it would destroy the sensitive seabed in the area, and soon the group questioned the existence of PCBs on board.

Environment Canada did a formal inspection of the ship in May of last year.

On Feb. 12 they released their results attached to a tender notice asking interested contractors to come to a pre-tender site visit on Feb. 15. The formal request for proposals should be posted in March, the notice stated.

"PCBs in solid matrix form have been identified in the interior insulation and in coatings of two compartments in the vessel," the tender notice said. "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."

When contacted by Coast Reporter this week, Environment Canada media relations person Danny Kingsberry said information about who came to the site visit and what the remediation project might cost can't be shared with the media in order "to ensure the integrity" of the bidding and contracting process.

It is still unclear who will be footing the clean-up bill, as Environment Canada could not confirm that by press time and ARSBC president Howard Robins would not comment on the issue of payment except to say "you'll have to talk to the government about what their plans are for all that stuff."

The ARSBC currently owes Wesley Roots of WR Marine Services a minimum of $95,240 for unpaid moorage fees to date on the Annapolis.

Roots has filed a lawsuit against the ARSBC to get the money he's owed, but in the documents he states he would be willing to drop the suit if a different, more suitable place to sink the ship could be found and a management plan created.

Robins would not comment on the lawsuit, but noted the ARSBC's plan is still to sink the ship in Halkett Bay.

Last year issues with the ARSBC's handling of the Annapolis sinking caused the Underwater Council of B.C. (UCBC) and the Dive Industry Association of B.C. to register votes of non-confidence in the society.

On Feb. 17 the UCBC held a meeting with the dive community to talk about the Annapolis project, and director Tom Beasley said divers were clear they want the ship sunk after the thousands of volunteer hours spent stripping the vessel.

He said divers would also like to see a back-up sinking plan made and that they want better communication about the project.

Robins said he has been communicating with the dive community.

"We have sent out regular public updates and we have sent them to the dive community and we have published them in our website," Robins said.

"From our perspective, we have kept the public informed and the government informed of the processes that are before us."

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