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Residents of Union Bay Demand Closure of Shipbreaking Site Amid Environmental Concerns

Residents of Union Bay Demand Closure of Shipbreaking Site Amid Environmental Concerns

Residents of Union Bay Demand Closure of Shipbreaking Site Amid Environmental Concerns

Residents of Union Bay, located in British Columbia, Canada, have intensified their efforts to shut down a shipbreaking site where two former U.S. government research vessels are being dismantled. Supported by environmentalists, they raise significant health, safety, and environmental concerns regarding the ongoing operations.

Identifying themselves as the Concerned Citizens of Baynes Sound (CCOBS), these residents are actively protesting against the shipbreaking activities conducted by the Canadian company Deep Water Recovery (DWR). They recently dispatched letters to federal, provincial, and regional authorities, emphasizing that the operations not only pose hazards but also violate national and international environmental and safety standards.

DWR is responsible for dismantling two vessels, namely the former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oceanographic research and survey vessels Miller Freeman and Surveyor, at Baynes Sound. The Miller Freeman, constructed in 1967, served in NOAA for nearly forty years before being decommissioned in March 2013. It was later sold at auction in December 2013 for $337,550 and towed to British Columbia for dismantling in 2019. Similarly, the Surveyor, built in 1960, served NOAA from 1970 to 1995.

Over the past three years, these vessels have undergone dismantling at Baynes Sound, eliciting anger from nearby communities. Supported by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, residents argue that the ships contain hazardous materials, including asbestos. Consequently, they have organized protests against what they perceive as unsafe and environmentally damaging scrapping operations.

In their latest endeavor to halt operations at the site, residents point to government tests confirming the presence of toxins such as lead and cadmium at concentrations twenty times above provincial maximum allowable limits. Additionally, asbestos, a known carcinogen, has been identified on the premises, particularly within the structure of the Miller Freeman, with a high likelihood of its presence in the Surveyor as well.

Residents have been locked in a battle against DWR for years. In 2022, the company responded to a court case alleging individuals’ “malicious campaign” of trespassing and harassment aimed at shutting down the business. While DWR asserts compliance with Canadian regulations, activists argue for stronger national measures.

The focus has now shifted to the two U.S. vessels, with residents arguing that hazardous materials, as defined under Hazardous Waste Regulation, are mishandled, posing risks to workers, the community, and the environment. Moreover, they allege that discharge from the site is contaminating the ocean, despite the British Columbia Province rejecting DWR’s application in December of the previous year to discharge into the ocean.

In their latest communication to government officials, CCOBS asserts, “The health, safety, and environmental risks currently posed by the shipbreaking operations in Union Bay are unacceptable. We urge you to take immediate action and shut down this hazardous waste site to protect our community, our environment, and the integrity of Baynes Sound.”

While Canada lacks federal regulations specifically governing shipbreaking, environmental groups advocate for the country to ratify the Hong Kong Convention for the safe recycling of ships and prohibit the beaching of vessels or ship recycling in ecologically sensitive areas.

Established in British Columbia in 2016, DWR engages in the salvage, dismantling, and recycling of marine vessels, barges, and railroad assets. In 2019, the company acquired a 111-acre property in Union Bay, situated on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island near the Strait of Georgia. The property comprises a 15-acre industrial marine site and a 27-acre water tenure specifically designated for vessel recycling.

The two U.S. vessels became their latest focus with the group arguing that the hazardous materials, as defined under the Hazardous Waste Regulation, are being mishandled, exposing workers, the surrounding community, and the environment to severe risks. Also, they are suggesting that discharge from the site is flowing into the ocean despite the BC Province rejecting DWR’s application in December last year to discharge into the ocean.

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