Location:  Wharf in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia

Case number: 120-653

The incident occurred on March 10, 2014, when the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) received a report from a concerned citizen that the vessel Cape Rouge was sinking at the wharf in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. During the mid-afternoon, Canadian Coast Guard Environmental Response (CCG ER) personnel arrived at the Bridgewater community wharf where the 120-foot old steel trawler sank by the stern with a 30 degree list to starboard. There was an oil sheen of fuel and lube oils leaking from the vessel. The local fire department was on-site and had placed an absorbent boom around the stern of the wreck.

The Coast Guard on-scene supervisor contacted the owner and gave him verbal “Notice” of his legal responsibility to take measures to prevent further pollution damage from the Cape Rouge. The owner stated that he would arrange with a contractor to raise the vessel and have the fuel oil removed. He also advised that the vessel contained approximately 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 40 gallons of lube oil. The owner said he was arranging for an elderly gentleman on the dock to pump the boat out. The owner was informed by Coast Guard that this was unacceptable, because the vessel was so unstable no one could be allowed on board.

On March 11, two Coast Guard responders returned to Bridgewater from the Dartmouth depot with an emergency response equipment trailer. When on site, with the use of a boat from the local fire department, Coast Guard deployed 1,000 feet of 18” containment boom around the wreck, which was still releasing an oil sheen into the waters of the LaHave River. Because the owner had not complied with the “Notice” to take appropriate preventative measures, Coast Guard personnel assumed the role of On-Scene Commander. The owner was notified that Coast Guard was taking appropriate measures due to his lack of response. The Coast Guard legal department was notified accordingly. At that time, Environment Canada enforcement personnel was given a written copy of the “Notice” to deliver to the vessel owner. Environment Canada also boarded the vessel and collected oil samples.

It was soon determined that the situation was severe enough to require special measures by a private contractor. As a result, RMI Marine Limited, with whom Coast Guard has a Standing Offer Agreement for rendering an oil spill response, was engaged to raise the partially sunken Cape Rouge and remove the oil pollution threat.

On March 12, Coast Guard arrived on site with a mobile command post unit and a Pollution Response Vessel (PRV1). The Cape Rouge had by now sunk to the river bed with only the wheelhouse above the water. It was still releasing oil into the LaHave River. RMI began pumping out the fuel tank. Professional divers and a vacuum truck were utilized. Some 10,900 litres of fuel/water mixture were pumped from the fuel tanks, which settled in holding tanks to about 5,000 litres of oil. During the day, CCG personnel recovered two cubic metres of oil soaked absorbent pads by using the PRV1 response boat. They also patrolled down river for approximately four nautical miles to ensure that released oil had not escaped the containment boom. They found some sheening along the shoreline in certain areas. The river patrol continued for several days.

On March 13 and during the next three days, a boom truck was hired to lift the hatches off the submerged wreck as part of the recovery plan. Throughout this period, the contracted divers continued to prepare the vessel’s hull for refloating. Meanwhile, CCG personnel continued to remove and replace absorbent boom and conduct river patrols to assess the amount of sheening down stream. In addition, another sub-contractor was hired on two occasions to sand the ice-covered dock.

On March 17, the sub-contractor, Eagle Beach Contractors Limited, arrived with a 10-tonne boom truck. Its crane and other heavy equipment were used for three days to drive six piles into the river bed between the Cape Rouge and the jetty in preparation for refloating. On March 19, all the piles were in place and RMI demobilized the crane. Throughout this period the RMI four-man diving crew secured extra mooring lines to the bow in order to help stabilize the vessel. They also removed hatch covers from the fish holds to remove debris, such as rope and fish nets that could clog the pumps during salvage. The recovered equipment and salvaged rope were stored on deck of the owner’s other vessel, Hannah Atlantic, which was also secured at the same dock in Bridgewater. Throughout these operations, Coast Guard personnel placed more sorbent boom in the area, since the vessel was still leaking oil.

On March 25, RMI commenced pumping out the forepeak and the accommodation space of the vessel. This was done with the approval of Environment Canada’s Environmental Emergencies personnel. At 1800 hrs, the Cape Rouge was floating with a five degree port list. When the vessel began to right itself, the divers were able to identify two leaks of water entering the engine room. The divers were able to remediate those slow leaks by using neoprene and clamps. The next day there was a snow storm with 40 to 50 cm of snow with winds up to 110 km/per hour. On March 28, Transport Canada Marine Safety inspected the vessel. It was found “to have corroded pipes and faulty valves in the engine room, a broken line to the generator and a rotted out fire main which is the suspected cause of the flooding and sinking”. The vessel was determined by Transport Canada Marine Safety and also by the CCG to be at risk of sinking again. Finally, on April 7, Coast Guard demobilized its command trailer and emergency response equipment. RMI also demobilized equipment on this day. The owner was informed that Coast Guard was finished with the response operation.

On June 26, 2014, Canadian Coast Guard, on behalf of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO/CCG), filed a claim with the Administrator for costs and expenses incurred in the amount of $362,575.38, pursuant to the Marine Liability Act (MLA).

The Administrator commenced a preliminary assessment of the claim. On July 29, the Administrator wrote to Coast Guard and explained that the submitted package was not in a form that could be properly assessed without additional information and substantiating documentation. Most of the support information requested was provided later by the Regional Coast Guard Office. However, several items with respect to the Standing Offer Agreement the Coast Guard had with the prime contractor, RMI Marine Services Limited, and the appropriate Statement of Work for the salvage operation were not provided. Coast Guard responded that this specific requested information was “not available”.

In order to assess the claim submission thoroughly, the Administrator engaged a technical marine surveyor to review the invoices of the contractor’s charges from an industry practices perspective. The consultant was also instructed to carry out an overall survey of the condition of the temporary repairs, which prevent a further ingress of water that caused the Cape Rouge to sink in the first place. He found that currently all appears to be in order with respect to the water tightness of the hull. However, he noted that a regular monitoring of the vessel’s condition should be implemented by the party responsible for the vessel. Furthermore, he recommended that any deterioration in the condition of the Cape Rouge should be reported to the authorities in a timely fashion. (These findings were relayed to the Coast Guard officials for information purposes.)

In general, the Administrator’s finding clearly indicated that the subsequent claim documentation, along with a series of photographs, show that the Cape Rouge had discharged, was discharging, and was likely to continue discharging oil as it lay partially submerged at the old government wharf. Furthermore, it was reasonable for Coast Guard to take over, because the vessel owner was unable to take appropriate measures. Moreover, CCG ER personnel worked in collaboration with the local community authority, the Department of the Environment and personnel of Transport Canada Marine Services throughout the duration of the incident. The documentation also records that several overflights were requested and conducted by Transport Canada surveillance aircraft over the LaHave River. Several oil slicks were detected. It is recorded that the river area is an extremely sensitive salmon habitat for all stages of salmon, eel, and whitefish development. It is also a habitat for ducks and bald eagles.

On March 19, 2015, the Administrator informed Coast Guard that, on the basis of the documentation filed and his overall assessment, he was able to offer the amount of $358,117.79, plus interest, as full and final settlement pursuant to the MLA. The letter of offer was made conditional on the Administrator receiving notification of acceptance along with the duly executed Release and Subrogation Agreement which was included with the letter of offer.

On April 29, 2015, a letter of acceptance of the offer was received. However, it did not include the requested Release and Subrogation Agreement. Coast Guard advised that with respect to the Release and Subrogation Agreement, it was seeking advice from DFO Legal Services. The Administrator then informed Coast Guard that he will not be able to proceed with requisitioning of payment of this claim until the issue of Release and Subrogation Agreement has been resolved.

On July 27, 2016, the Administrator directed Transport Canada to pay the Department of Fisheries and Oceans the established claim amount of $382,353.33 including interest. Earlier in July of 2016, the Administrator had tasked a professional locator service to investigate the assets of the owners of the vessel and no significant financial assets were identified. However, noting that the vessel owner is a repeat polluter, the Administrator decided to pursue recovery action.

On October 4, 2016, the Administrator filed a Statement of Claim with the Federal Court.