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Sunken boat with holes abandoned in BC Park sparks environmental concerns

From spotted to sunk: Follow the case of an abandoned vessel at Porteau Cove, revealing challenges in dealing with marine debris and pollution.

It is an abandoned boat saga.

The tale begins on June 24, when Squamish conservationist John Buchanan spotted an abandoned six-metre (20-foot) cabin cruiser washed up on the beach at Porteau Cove Provincial Park.

Buchanan, having reported and retrieved abandoned vessels in the past, took a closer look and took pictures to send to the regulator agencies.

It had fuel onboard, a refrigerator still on it, and something else caught his eye.

Unlike other abandoned watercraft he has seen, which may have gotten loose and drifted away, this one appeared deliberately sunk.

"Somebody had actually drilled holes into the bow of the vessel.”

There were several 6.35 millimetre (.25 inch) holes in a pattern, he said.

"This was not something that you can say, oh, you know, somebody accidentally dropped a drill on the hull."

After reporting what he found to the Coast Guard and the RCMP, he told some of his workmates what he saw.

With the help of a  colleague, he found an old online advertisement for a boat that looked like the abandoned vessel.

Buchanan passed this new information on to the RCMP.

He then waited, checking on the boat’s location each day, but nothing happened.

As of July 4, the boat remains at Porteau Cove Provincial Park, only now sunk beside the pier.

Buchanan is beyond frustrated by the lack of action on removing the vessel, which he says is polluting the ocean with its fuel on board, the refrigerator and the fibreglass of the boat itself, which will start to break apart as waves pound on it.

"[Abandoned boats] pose environmental hazards that leach an array of contaminants into the sea, such as oil, fuels, paints, batteries, fibreglass, plastics and other toxins," reads a post by the advocacy group  Georgia Strait Alliance, on its website.

"This puts marine life and habitat at risk, not to mention the danger these vessels pose to mariners and beachgoers and the damage they can cause to shoreline facilities."

Buchanan also noted this abandoned vessel is in a provincial park, with many visitors, including children.

What do authorities say?

A Coast Guard spokesperson told The Squamish Chief that the agency first received a call about the boat on June 22.

The vessel was assessed under the Canada Shipping Act and the Wrecked Abandoned and Hazardous Vessel Act.

"Our assessment determined that the vessel was not actively polluting and did not pose an immediate hazard to the environment," the spokesperson said, adding that the case was handed to Transport Canada for further review.

The Coast Guard has also issued a navigational warning in the event that the vessel moves with the tide. 

"We ask the public to please avoid the vessel, as it is private property and climbing it could pose a risk of injury."

The spokesperson noted that, under Canadian law, vessel owners are responsible for their watercraft at all times and must take all actions necessary, including repairs, salvage, and prevention or clean-up of leaking fuel and oil.

"Owners are responsible for the costs of addressing their problem or hazardous vessel. This includes cleanup or repairs, and any remediation action taken by the Canadian Coast Guard."

As the boat is located in a provincial park, The Squamish Chief also reached out to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, which is responsble for BCParks.

A spokesperson said that they were aware of the situation and staff were working with fellow agencies, "to ensure the abandoned vessel is dealt with as quickly as possible," though repeated that the Coast Guard found it of "low risk of environmental damage."

Before removing personal property from a park, BC Parks must provide a 30-day written ‘Order to Remove’ to the owner of the property in question, or post it on the property in question, the spokesperson said.

Squamish RCMP said that the most recent owner of the boat was identified, and the information provided to Transport Canada for their investigational purposes. 

"It'll probably just stay there and bust up like the ones I saw recently at Britannia Beach and it gets dispersed into the environment," Buchanan said, adding that months from now, pieces of debris from it may be cleaned up by citizens in a shoreline clean up, when it could have all been prevented had the boat been removed right away.

"It's an easy recovery job. This is not complicated, but it will become complicated as storms pound this boat and destroy it."

The Squamish Chief reached out to Transport Canada, but did not receive a response by press deadline.

Members of the public who see a marine pollution incident or a marine hazard are encouraged to report the incident to the Canadian Coast Guard at 1-800-565-1633.