Bertha G (2012)

LOCATION: Dunsmuir Island in Ladysmith Harbour

Case number: 120-664

The response to this incident commenced during the afternoon of November 14, 2012, when the Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Response (CCG ER) personnel received reports that an ex-fishing vessel was aground near Dunsmuir Island in Ladysmith Harbour, Vancouver Island. People in the area reported that there was oil leaking from the vessel as it rested aground and listed to port. The following morning two CCG ER personnel with a pollution response craft and other counter-measures equipment from the Victoria depot proceeded to the site, in order to assess the situation. They found the vessel hard aground and flooded. It was discharging black oil onto the surface of the water. At the outset, the vessel owner could not be determined, because there was no visible name or registration number. However, Coast Guard was later advised by the engaged salvage master that he believed that the vessel was the Bertha G, which had been acquired by a local person who had no means to respond to the discharge of pollutants. In research, it was found that the Transport Canada Vessel Registration Query System indicates that the old 80-foot fishing vessel Bertha G, originally registered in Prince Rupert, has been suspended from the vessel listing.

Coast Guard’s Regional Superintendent of Environmental Response decided to remove the vessel from the grounded position so as to prevent and minimize further oil pollution damage. His decision was based on the inability, under the circumstances, to safely determine the volume of the potential pollutants or to remove the oil from on board where the vessel lay aground. In addition, citizens from the local Stz’Uminus First Nation territory were expressing concern about polluting the location, which is a traditional shellfish harvesting area. As a consequence, CCG ER engaged Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) to solicit bids for the removal of the vessel from qualified known contractors. Saltair Marine Services Ltd., located at nearby Ladysmith, was awarded the contract.

In order to take advantage of low tide and because of the adverse weather forecast (the documentation notes a forecast of winds of 35-40 knots with strong wave action) the salvage contractor expedited preparations and raised the vessel during the night of November 16. There was a hole in the hull of the wreck, which required pumping throughout the salvage operation. The wreck was towed to the contractor’s facility, where Coast Guard engaged a surveyor to assess the vessel’s condition. Upon arrival at the shipyard, the surveyor advised that he was unable to conduct a proper survey because the contractor had already removed a portion of the vessel’s superstructure to reduce weight and raise the hull out of the water. The surveyor did, however, indicate that the vessel was contaminated with oil throughout and had no value. The vessel was removed from the water at the contractor’s facility and placed onto a concrete containment pad so that, during the process of demolition, the waste oils would be contained in a catch basin. The fuel and oils were drained from the fuel tank and the piping. When the engine was removed, an excavator was utilized to dismantle and sort the debris, waste wood, and recyclable scrap steel.

On October 14, 2014, one month short of the limitation period, the Administrator received a claim from Coast Guard, on behalf of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, for costs and expenses in the amount of $63,789.60, pursuant to the Marine Liability Act (MLA).

The Administrator commenced an investigation and assessment of the claim documentation. The findings ascertained that there is adequate documentation and photographs to show that the old vessel was aground causing oil pollution. It was discharging and would have very likely continued to discharge oil pollutants as it lay partially submerged near Dunsmuir Island. The filed documentation clearly substantiated that the measures taken by the contractor were in accordance with the PWGSC contract, which contains a “Statement of Work” for the oil containment, clean-up, and demolition of the vessel. The vessel was totally deconstructed to remove the pollutants as a final measure to prevent any more discharge of oil into the marine environment. The chronology of the claim material notes that the ownership of the vessel remains unclear. It is reported that the last person to have care of the Bertha G, is a destitute senior citizen who lives aboard another decrepit derelict vessel. The Coast Guard indicates that it has not taken any further effort to recover costs from that individual.

The Administrator instructed counsel to engage a marine technical surveyor to review the Fund’s preliminary assessment. On January 23, 2015, the technical surveyor reported that if the salvage measures had not been undertaken before the storm occurred, there was a high probability that the Bertha G would have shifted into deeper waters and broken up.

On January 29, the Administrator informed the Coast Guard that the investigation and assessment of the claim was completed. The full amount was found to be established. Therefore, on the basis of the findings, the offer was for the amount of $63,789.60, plus interest, as full and final settlement, pursuant to the MLA. The Administrator also explained that the offer was made conditional on his receiving with Coast Guard’s notification of acceptance of the offer, the return of the Release and Subrogation Agreement duly executed.

On March 27, 2015, a letter of acceptance of the offer was received from the Coast Guard, but the letter of acceptance did not include the executed Release and Subrogation Agreement which was attached to the Administrator’s offer. On March 30, the Administrator informed the Coast Guard that he will not proceed with requisitioning payment of this claim until the issue of Release and Subrogation Agreement has been resolved.

The Claim was paid in full in the amount of $71,298.93 including interest on November 9, 2016. The Administrator had during the course of the year considered all recourse options available; however, given that the ownership of the vessel could not be established the Administrator closed the file on November 29, 2016.