Cormorant (2015)

LOCATION: LaHave River, Bridgewater, Nova Scotia

Case number: 120-672

On March 18, 2015, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) was notified that the Cormorant, a former diving support ship in the Royal Canadian Navy that had been decommissioned and sold in 1997, was listing heavily at the dock in LaHave River, Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Inspection indicated that water had flooded the main hold in the ship. It was most likely as a result of frozen and ruptured pipe lines. It was reported by the owner’s representative that there was no fuel in the main tanks, but there were approximately 200 litres of diesel fuel in the emergency generator tank and lube oil in the main engines. The vessel was leaking oil from the time of sinking. Initially, a containment boom could not be used due to the snow-covered ice around the hull of the vessel.

Coast Guard personnel proceeded to Bridgewater and met with the person who identified himself as the vessel owner. The Coast Guard gave the owner a Notice of Intent informing him of his responsibilities under the Marine Liability Act (MLA). Also, he was provided with a Direction Order to develop a salvage plan to refloat the Cormorant. The owner engaged Horseshoe Bay Marine Salvage Group and they commenced to develop a salvage plan. The local fire department assisted by using water pressure to blast the snow and ice off the partially sunken vessel. Eventually, a containment boom was streamed around the wreck. Locals were hired to maintain the boom and remove absorbents as necessary. Throughout this period, the Coast Guard assumed the role of Federal Monitoring Officer.

Towards the end of March, the Coast Guard located a response equipment trailer at Bridgewater to deal with the continuing oil pollution caused by the wreck. In mid-April, meetings were held with the owner and the salvage company to review the overall pollution response plan. By April 27, the federal agencies ̶ that is, Coast Guard, Transport Canada and Environment Canada, were expressing concern about the level of the measures being taken. A further meeting was held on May 4 with the salvage representatives, at which time Coast Guard was informed that the salvor would not be continuing with salvage operations until the ownership of the vessel was settled in court.

On May 5, Coast Guard assumed the role of On-Scene Commander and contacted RMI Marine Limited to take measures to control the salvage operation. On May 8, with the aid of divers, RMI removed 5,850 litres of waste oil from the engine room bilge and 350 litres of hydraulic oil from several tanks. Meanwhile, Coast Guard maintained the containment boom and recovered oil contaminated pads from the surface of the water. By May 21, the divers completed most of their work.

On May 27, the Cormorant was refloated. All the absorbent pads and containment boom were recovered. In total some 70,000 litres of pollution products were removed. The Coast Guard Environmental Response crew was demobilized and returned to the Dartmouth Depot.

On November 2, 2015, the Canadian Coast Guard, on behalf of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, filed a claim with the Administrator for costs and expenses incurred in the amount of $549,581.18, pursuant to the MLA. The Administrator acknowledged receipt of the claim and commenced an investigation and assessment.

By way of background information, in 2002 the old naval diving support vessel of some 2174 gross tonnes was moored alongside the wharf of the Artificial Reef Society in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. In 2009, the Federal Court gave the Society permission to sell the vessel through a Sheriff’s Sale. This is the third claim that the Fund has received concerning vessels moored alongside the same wharf in Bridgewater. First the Hannah Atlantic ($19,956.15), second the Cape Rouge ($362,575.38), and now the Cormorant ($549,581.18).

When the Administrator was initially informed that Coast Guard had assumed the role of On-Scene Commander of the incident on May 5, 2015, he instructed counsel to engage a marine technical surveyor to attend the scene of the incident and observe the measures being taken. The surveyor made four different visits to the site between May 11 and June 3. He reported upon the progress of the ongoing removal of the oily pollutants and the stabilization of the vessel to an upright position.

In general, the investigation ascertained that it was reasonable for Coast Guard to take over and engage the RMI contractor, since the owner was not continuing with any appropriate salvage operations.

On March 29, 2016, the Administrator informed Coast Guard that on the basis of the documentation filed, and his receipt of the additional support information earlier requested, he was able to offer $515,267.25 as the established amount of the claim. The standard Release and Subrogation Agreement was enclosed with the letter of offer.

On August 19, 2016, the Administrator processed payment of the claim to Coast Guard in the amount of $534,340.76 including interest.

In June of 2016, the Administrator contracted a professional locator service to complete a locate and asset search on the owner of the Cormorant. Pursuing further recourse action in September, Counsel for the Administrator filed a Statement of Claim, Warrant, and Affidavit to Lead Warrant with the Federal Court and arranged for the arrest of the Cormorant. In the interim, the file remains open.