Dismantling a legacy

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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Published on March 17, 2012

Pictures taken last month of the former MV Caribou and MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood show how much dismantling of the former Marine Atlantic ferries has happened since the ships were beached off the coast of India late last year. The partially stripped hulls are a stark contrast from how the ships looked on their final runs. - Photos of stripped ships courtesy of www.midshipcentury.com; photos of intact ships are courtesy of the Gulf News

Published on March 17, 2012

Pictures taken last month of the former MV Caribou and MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood show how much dismantling of the former Marine Atlantic ferries has happened since the ships were beached off the coast of India late last year. The partially stripped hulls are a stark contrast from how the ships looked on their final runs. - Photos of stripped ships courtesy of www.midshipcentury.com; photos of intact ships are courtesy of the Gulf News

Published on March 17, 2012

Pictures taken last month of the former MV Caribou and MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood show how much dismantling of the former Marine Atlantic ferries has happened since the ships were beached off the coast of India late last year. The partially stripped hulls are a stark contrast from how the ships looked on their final runs. - Photos of stripped ships courtesy of www.midshipcentury.com; photos of intact ships are courtesy of the Gulf News

Stripped ferries a disturbing sight for those who once relied on them

Brian Button, the mayor of Port aux Basques, has a picture of the Caribou and the Joseph and Clara Smallwood in his office - the two former Marine Atlantic ferries, side by side in dock.

It's an image from history and from memory now, and a stark contrast to how the vessels look today - beached off the coast of Alang, India, partially stripped, decks that once held cars and trucks - and corridors that saw countless passengers - now exposed as the ferries get picked clean for scrap metal.

The mayor said it was disheartening to see the ships in that state - especially the Caribou, named for the SS Caribou, a passenger vessel that was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in 1942, killing 137 of the 252 civilian and military passengers and crew aboard.

"The Caribou itself, carrying that name, meant a whole lot to the community," he said. "When they left, and when it was announced that this was going to be their final year and their final time, a lot of people were saddened by that, to see them go. I'm sure when they see these pictures - I know how I felt, just now when I opened them, and I called the people in here around my office to have a look. It is very sad to look at that, and know how good and what a service that these ferries provided for this province."

Gerry Byrne, the Liberal MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, said it was difficult to look at pictures of the partially dismantled vessels, adding that the ships - the Caribou was retired in November 2010, the Smallwood in March 2011 - weren't given a proper sendoff.

"A lot of money was spent on the commissioning and the Canadian flagging of the Blue Puttees and the Highlanders. Out of respect to the Caribou - the Caribou was named for a very famous coastal vessel that is pretty important in our history - there should have been a proper decommissioning ceremony that was given," he said. "This is pretty sad, to see two boats, the Caribou and the Smallwood to just end up with absolutely no respect, no gratitude for the service these vessels provided."

Byrne said the lack of respect for the history of the vessels is shameful.

"We're a maritime province, and it may sound a little dramatic, but ships of this nature are important, and that's why we not only celebrate the commissioning, but we also pay respect and tribute when they're decommissioned, and that really should have happened here," he said. "We all accept the fact that sooner or later these vessels did indeed have a final day, a final crossing, and one day would have to be put out of service. The issue for each and every one of us, myself included, is that without a decommissioning ceremony, without an opportunity to say goodbye, to two vessels that served us extremely well, both of which held namesakes which are important to our province ... it's pretty poignant."

Button said there was, in fact, a small ceremony in Port aux Basques when the ferries made their last run out of the town's port, but he said more probably could have been done.

"There might have been a week of activities happening around them," he said. "These two ships were built in Canada. Unlike the vessels that we have now, they were done right here, at home in Canada. They were part of this run, and very good, seaworthy boats. They were our link for many years."

Jarrod David, a shipwatcher from Nova Scotia who has been keeping track of the ferries since they left Newfoundland, said it's a shame to see the ferries in that state.

"It's just sad to see them gone, indeed, for sure. I think from following this, there's a lot of good ships ending up on the beaches in Alang, and in Turkey, that still have good years left on them, but with the price of steel the way it is, from what I'm hearing, that's what's happening. Not just Marine Atlantic, but with a lot of shipping companies."

In November, when pictures emerged of the ferries beached near Alang, concerns were raised about whether recycling of the vessels would be done in accordance with environmental guidelines. At the time, a Marine Atlantic spokeswoman said a condition of sale included a commitment that if the buyer decided to recycle the vessel, it would be done in a yard with full green recycling facilities in compliance with International Maritime Organization guidelines.

David said it's hard to tell if the dismantling is being done responsibly - but the stripping is being done quickly.

"There's so many ships that go ashore there in Alang, and they cut them so well. They're good at what they do. Whether it's environmental or not, it's hard to tell from the pictures," he said. "You really can't tell what their practices are. I see a lot of ships up there on the beach."

He added he's heard mixed reviews on the replacement ferries.

"There's varying opinions on them," he said. "I've sailed on them a couple of times; I have no problems with them. I think they're great, comfortwise, and the staff is pretty good, too."

Byrne scoffed at Marine Atlantic's assertion that there was an agreement in place that recycling of the vessels was supposed to be done in compliance with International Maritime Organization guidelines.

"They say there was an agreement, but when there's nothing there to enforce the agreement, it's not an agreement," he said.

Nova Scotia MP Megan Leslie, the federal NDP's environmental critic, said Alang has a reputation for environmentally unsound shipbreaking, because it's done on a beach instead of in a dry dock, where spills could be contained.

"If we look at the history in Alang, they are renowned for terrible child labour practices, and also non-existent environmental standards," she said. "So we have known this would happen. Seeing the pictures is pretty shocking, but at the same time, that's what we would have expected."

Leslie said the recycling could have been done in Canada.

"I think we just shipped a bunch of jobs off to India. We have incredible shipbuilding facilities in Canada, there's no reason that we couldn't also do the shipbreaking," she said. "It's infuriating to know that Marine Atlantic thought this might happen. Thought it might happen, put it in the sale agreement that the ships would be broken down in green recycling facilities - so went that far, to put it in the agreement for purchase - but then sold it anyway, figuring, 'Well, this is probably going to happen,' then throwing up their hands and saying, 'Well, there's nothing we can do about it.'"

In November, Marine Atlantic said it was reviewing the purchase to see if the terms of sale had been breached. This week, Marine Atlantic declined a request for an interview, but spokeswoman Tara Laing issued a written statement to the Telegram late Friday afternoon.

"The MV Caribou was sold to Comrie Ltd., of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines," reads the statement. "The MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood was sold to Merrion Navigation S.A. of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The new owners took possession of the vessels and departed from the North Sydney area in September 2011. It is our understanding that the vessels were then resold. Marine Atlantic has completed its internal review and no further action is planned at this time."

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Smallwood, International Maritime Organization NDP Comrie Ltd.

Geographic location: Alang, Port aux Basques, India Canada Nova Scotia Newfoundland Turkey Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Republic of the Marshall Islands North Sydney

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  • Trian
    March 20, 2012 - 04:50

    We're sending our problems to be dealt with in the third world as has been done by developed nations for many years. They don't care about the environment if it costs money and we don't care to know about it. Sorry David Sazuki.

    • Banker
      April 20, 2013 - 18:37

      What do they expect, the ships to just rust away in the harbour not being used or maintained? It's their fault they didn't give the ships a proper sendoff. Some of my fondest memories as a kid was taking the ferry to Nova Scotia during summer vacations with my family, but I don't see the problem in using the ship for raw materials when we all should be supporting the re-use of renewable resources whenever possible.

  • seanoairborne
    March 18, 2012 - 15:49

    I can't believe the mindset of some Gov.officials.Crying over a couple of ships that have outlived their usfulness.Who cares about the way they're being dismantled?And all this BS about ""green' dismantling is insane! Being green is a load of horse manure too.If we as a people want to try and keep the planet a little cleaner and greener lets get back to using glass bottles over and over again ,charge a fee for each bottle,like we did in the fifties.Then,lets get rid of all plastic bags and replace them with paper that is biodegradable.Those two things alone would take care of 50 pct of the garbage problems we have today.Not to mention all the other non-biodegradable items that go into many of our everyday products today like plastic forks,spoons ,plates and cups that have a half life of nuclear material.It won't rot in a landfill for millions of years,if ever.All the things the cloistered clowns of the pseudo-scientific world ,lying through their teeth to get Gov money,seem to ignore.And then,of course,there are these two rust buckets.Anybody with a brain knows that over the last century or so there have been thousands of ships that have met with accidents and that have been sunk by U-Boats with full cargos of oil and other material that have had zero environmental impacts on our oceans.So,what makes you people believe that the scrapping of these two scows will be any different?Use your heads folks for something besides a hatrack!

  • Joe ryan
    March 18, 2012 - 13:12

    What a joke. And if they had "a proper decommissioning ceremony", Gerry would have the been the first person to complain about the money wasted on a party for some old scrap buckets.

  • Mike
    March 18, 2012 - 07:39

    So why don't they hold a ceremony, erect a picture and a plaque and have their "closure"...insert eye rolling.

  • California Pete from NFLD
    March 17, 2012 - 18:41

    I got rid of my 1952 Plymouth a long time back. It was worn out and that was the end of that so let it go give it up. I now have a new car with modern technology and I love it Do you get it

  • Tim
    March 17, 2012 - 11:56

    Just a small correction on the recent photos of dismantled vessels. The references are in reverse by mishipcentury and the Telegram - it is the Smallwood that was more stripped out, and the Caribou with the centre part of the wheelhouse intact. Although they are sister ships, the mast betwen the funnels was different - Caribou had the thicker one. Also, someone a little more appropriate than Gerry Byrne and his typical melodramatic language could have been contacted for this story. How about a former captain, or some frequent formaer travellers. How do *they* feel about these pics?

  • sealcove
    March 17, 2012 - 10:55

    The new vessels are garbage

  • Gerald
    March 17, 2012 - 09:42

    While some people do not like to see change, these two ferries outlived their lives on this run. It is funny to see MP Gerry Byrne so 'emotional' about the dismantling of these vessels. All he did when they were there was complain about the service! The service seems to be working good with the two new vessels so i guess Byrne doesnt have as much to complain about these days. While we all love to reminise about the past we should also remember that we have 2 new vessels that are very efficient. What we should be worrying about is if the service is properly catering to the people of this province, not how the old vessels are being dismantled or if Gerry Byrne needs something to complain about!