LOCATION:  St. Lawrence River, at Montreal

Case number: 120-676

During the morning of July 17, 2013, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) was alerted that the maritime shuttle ferry, Tandem I, was aground in the St. Lawrence River, at Montreal. The 24-metre vessel sustained a fire in the engine room, and grounded about 2.34 cables off the wharf in Longueuil. There were three crew members, but no passengers on board at the time. The local fire department responded and quickly extinguished the fire. The vessel had 4,000 litres of diesel fuel on board, and a sheen of oil pollution was seen to be dispersing with the river current. Using its own boat, the fire department placed a containment boom around the vessel.

The vessel owner, Croisières AML, based in Quebec assumed the role of On-Scene Commander. Arrangements were made by the owner for other vessels to assist in the lightering of the Tandem I, so that the vessel could be towed to Section 25 in the Port of Montreal. During the lightering operations, the owner did not find it necessary to activate his agreement with the Response Organization. During the response to the incident a Transport Canada marine inspector boarded the grounded vessel and approved the owner’s plan for refloating. It was determined that the hull was intact.

Some of the diesel fuel was transferred into 45-gallon drums and then moved to other vessels. Subsequently, the vessel was safely towed off the rocks.

Throughout the operational response, the Coast Guard assumed the role of Federal Monitoring Officer and requested that Environment Canada provide an assessment of environmental issues. Environment Canada supplied several models of probable oil spill trajectories in the event of a spill during the refloating operations. The bird colonies at risk were identified, and it was confirmed that there were no drinking water intakes that could be contaminated. The claim documentation indicates that the amount of oil that escaped was quickly dispersed by the river current, and that no further pollution occurred after the Tandem I was refloated and transferred to the pier.

On June 16, 2015, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO/CCG) filed a claim with the Administrator for costs and expenses in the amount of $2,502.48, pursuant to the Marine Liability Act (MLA). The claim was submitted just one month short of the prescription period allowed under the MLA.

On June 24, after investigation and assessment of the claim, the Administrator concluded that the total amount of the claim was established. He, therefore, made a final offer to DFO/CCG for the established amount, plus interest, as full and final settlement pursuant to the MLA. Enclosed with the registered letter of offer was a Release and Subrogation Agreement to be executed on behalf of the Coast Guard. The Administrator also advised that he will not proceed with the calculation of interest and requisitioning the transfer of funds until he has received the duly executed Release and Subrogation Agreement.

In the letter of offer, the Administrator briefly addressed the matter of recourse and recovery action. He once again reminded Coast Guard senior management that under the Act, he has a duty to take reasonable measures to recover the compensation paid to claimants out of the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund, from the owner of the ship. He explained that it is very difficult to try to collect in circumstances such as this case, some two years after the occurrence. When Coast Guard files claims so near the end of the two-year prescription period, the chances of collecting from the owners are remote. This sort of delayed filing benefits the owner and, consequently, goes against the “polluter-pays” principle.

On July 10, 2015, a letter of acceptance of the final offer was received from Coast Guard. It did not, however, include the executed Release and Subrogation Agreement, which had been included with the final settlement. In the response, Coast Guard advised that it was seeking advice from DFO Legal Services with regard to the agreement. On July 14, the Administrator informed Coast Guard that he will not proceed with the requisitioning of payment of this claim until the issue of Release and Subrogation Agreement has been resolved.

In July 2016, the Administrator paid DFO/CCG $2,733.69 including interest and proceeded with recourse action against the responsible shipowner before the statutory deadline. Counsel for the shipowner initially raised the issue of the long delay in presentation of the Fund claim and invoked the fact that no court action had been filed before the 3 year period after this delay was passed. The shipowner did not accept financial responsibility under the Marine Liability Act. After consideration the Administrator concluded that all reasonable steps to recover the costs of the claim had been taken and subsequently closed the file on March 31, 2017.