Dismantling a legacy

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

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@thetelegram.com
Published on March 17, 2012
Ferry

Published on 17 March 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

Photos by

Ferry

Published on 17 March 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

Photos by

Ferry

Published on 17 March 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

Photos by

Ferry

Published on 17 March 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

Photos by

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