SHELBURNE, N.S. – A decision released by the Federal Court of Canada on Feb. 4 ordering M/V Farley Mowat owner Tracey Donald Dodds to pay the Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund (SOPF) damages and interest totaling $867,158.57 is being called “a win for Canadians.”
“Generally, the administrator of the SOPF is happy with the result,” said David Côté, legal counsel for SOPF in an interview. “It’s a win for Canadians. It’s good that the court upheld the polluter pay principle. If we can collect, that’s something we have to deal with moving forward.”
The statement of claim filed by the SOPF was “amongst SOPF’s largest number of incidents for 1 single ship ever: 3 occurrences & $2M claimed,” they tweeted after the decision was released.
The summary judgement released by Judge Elizabeth Heneghan orders Dodds to pay the SOPF damages in the amount of $839,863.02 plus pre-judgement interest of $27,295.55 for a total of $867,158.57 for clean up costs related to a June 24 and 25, 2015 incident when the Farley Mowat sank and discharged oil into Shelburne Harbour. It took until August of that year to conduct the clean-up, refloat the vessel and put preventive measures in place to stop the further discharge of oil.
The vessel was first abandoned in Shelburne Harbour in September 2014, where it remained for nearly three years.
The court ruled that the vessel’s owner is liable under the Canada Shipping Act for pollution damage and clean-up costs, saying the arrest of a vessel does not affect an owner’s responsibility for the ship nor possession of the ship.
“Ultimately people are happy that this particular vessel is gone but there’s a lot more out there,” said Côté, calling the Farley Mowat “typical of the type of derelict and abandoned vessels that litter the coast.”
“They are unregistered, may or may not have an owner, and when they do these people have no money or assets, or no insurance, to pay when something inevitably goes wrong. People are more worried about oil tankers and international vessels when really the vessels that cause the most trouble to Canadians and the taxpayer are these problem vessels,” he says, which are ex-fishing vessels and abandoned pleasure vessels for the most part.
“By the number of cases and in terms of how much these things cost, its a much bigger problem than any other type of vessel in terms of oil pollution,” he said.
The SOPF has a twofold mandate, said Côté. The first one is to compensate victims of oil pollution including the Canadian government through the Canadian Coast Guard for example when they take measures to respond to this kind of incident when a vessel like this is polluting. The second is to attempt as much as reasonable to recover these amounts of money from the polluting ship owner.
“Canadians expect us to recover the money that ultimately taxpayers have spent on these things so sometimes a ship owner might not have the money now but who knows in the future?” said Côté.
In the federal court decision, Dodds was also ordered to pay the Canadian Coast Guard’s cleanup costs relating to the vessel Atlantic II, which sank in Bridgewater.
The Town of Shelburne did get reimbursed by the SOPF for most of their costs associated with the harbour cleanup from the sinking of the Farley Mowat, said Mayor Karen Mattatall.
A federal Court decision on Dec. 21, 2017 also granted the town the entitlement to try to recover more than $140,000 from the owner of the MV Farley Mowat, for outstanding berthage fees, clean-up costs, maintenance and security costs, and legal costs incurred during the almost three years the derelict ship was tied up and abandoned at the Shelburne Marine Terminal.
Over the years the town felt it should not be left to the town and its taxpayers to pay for the removal of the boat. However, rather than comply with court orders to remove the vessel, its owner ignored the orders and was arrested and jailed for contempt of court.
In June 2017, Dodds also failed to provide the Canadian Coast Guard with a plan to address the ongoing threat of pollution posed by the vessel.
The Farley Mowat was removed from the Shelburne Marine Terminal on July 26, 2017, by way of contract issued by the Canadian Coast Guard, which found the found the derelict vessel was presenting a risk of pollution to the marine environment in the area.
The passage of South Shore St. Margaret’s MP Bernadette Jordan’s private member’s bill in 2016 helped pave the way for the removal, which was literally celebrated with a party on shore – complete with cake and music – the day the Farley Mowat was towed away to be scraped and dismantled elsewhere. Jordan’s bill called on the federal government to take meaningful steps to address the issue of abandoned vessels across the country, under the Oceans Protection Plan.
“This is really exciting,” said Jordan as she watched the Farley Mowat be readied for towing in July 2017.
Said Mayor Mattatall on that day, “This is a very big day for the Town of Shelburne. It’s been almost three years we’ve had this albatross around our necks so finally the day has come… It’s been a long time coming. We exhausted every legal option that we had. We are thankful the federal government stepped in. It’s important to the town to see it go. It’s a big deal because it never should have happened to begin with.”
The MV Farley Mowat is an all-steel vessel built in Norway in 1956. The vessel sat abandoned at the dock in Shelburne from September 2014 to July 2017
- In May 2017, the Coast Guard contracted a marine surveyor to collect information on the MV Farley Mowat's condition, including its structural condition; watertight integrity; the quantity and location of any pollutants; and how the vessel would hold-up to towage.
- The survey found oil-contaminated water in most of the tanks and determined that based on the vessel's current condition, it is at risk of polluting if left unattended.
- Under powers granted to the Coast Guard under Section 180 of the Canada Shipping Act 2001, the owner was directed to remove the pollutants and safely dispose of the vessel.
- When the owner did not respond to the order to address the instability and poor condition of the vessel, the Canadian Coast Guard exercised its full authority to issue an emergency contract to prepare and tow the MV Farley Mowat to a disposal yard to protect the marine environment.
- It finally left Shelburne harbour in July 2017.