Ship that carried hundreds of migrants to Canada now a floating toxic stew

OTTAWA — The MV Sun Sea carried nearly 500 Tamil migrants to Canada eight years ago, but now the rusting cargo ship sits forlornly on the B.C. coast — an unwanted vessel of toxins including asbestos, PCBs and mould, documents reveal.

The federal government, which has been stuck with the rickety ship for years, is looking for an “environmentally sound” and cost-effective way of getting rid of it.

The Public Services and Procurement Department recently issued a request for feedback from industry on how to dismantle and dispose of the 38-year-old steel ship with an infamous past.

Organizers of the MV Sun Sea’s 2010 voyage from strife-torn Sri Lanka promised passage in return for $20,000 to $30,000 per person.

Federal authorities intercepted the vessel, which has been moored at a Public Services facility in Delta, B.C., since 2012. No owner of the ship could be identified, and no one wanted to buy it.

The vessel, under control of the Canada Border Services Agency, has cost the government approximately $970,000 in storage and maintenance costs.

The border agency and other federal partners ”are working diligently” to figure out how to dispose of the ship, says a March 2018 briefing note obtained through the Access to Information Act.

The request for industry feedback is the first step toward unloading the 52-metre floating lemon. The solicitation documents say the government hopes to ask for bids from disposal companies in August and award a contract the following month, with a project completion date of March.

“The government of Canada has made the determination that the MV Sun Sea must be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner, in a Canadian facility, in accordance with Canadian law,” says an initial outline of the work plan prepared by the border agency.

The agency said Wednesday it is “committed to pursuing every viable option” for discarding the ship.

A January 2016 examination revealed several hazardous materials on board the MV Sun Sea, including mould throughout the vessel, asbestos, lead-laden paint, PCBs in paint and cabling coating, mercury in gauges and fluorescent lamps, and radioactive substances in smoke detectors and navigation equipment.

The detailed draft work statement says the contractor must remove and dispose of the potentially dangerous materials while following applicable regulations. For instance, all loose and flaky paint must be scraped off, vacuumed and properly discarded.

In addition, there must be an environmental contingency plan to deal with petroleum product leaks in the water or on the ground, seepage of ozone-depleting substances or catastrophes such as a fire or an explosion.

Due to the ship’s condition, the government will not allow a contractor to tow it to a work site beyond the waters of southern British Columbia. In addition, any company hired to do the dismantling will not be permitted to sell it to a broker.

However, the documents suggest a winning bidder might be able to salvage elements including the main engine, generator, pumps, steel, valves, pipes, hatches, portholes and furniture.

The federal government is going about the project the right way from an ethical and environmental standpoint, said Darren Webster, senior project manager for ship recycling with R.J. MacIsaac Construction Ltd.

Ensuring the MV Sun Sea is disposed of in Canada under rigorous controls is “much better than this vessel ending up in Bangladesh or India or somewhere,” he said.

“It’s the only way that it can be done.”

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