Transport Canada still owed Orlova costs from owners

Politicians want to know how government will recoup expenses

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on September 6, 2013
The Lyubov Orlova. — Telegram file photo

Last winter, when the derelict Russian cruise ship Lyubov Orlova was adrift, heading towards offshore oil installations, Transport Canada said in no uncertain terms that taxpayers would not be on the hook for costs associated with the crisis.

Seven months later, it appears that Transport Canada has made no effort at all to hold the Orlova’s owners accountable.

In a letter to the Orlova’s owner dated Jan. 30, Transport Canada assistant deputy minister Gerard McDonald said the government could go after them to pay for what happened.

“As owner of the vessel, you are responsible for it at law,” McDonald wrote. “Be advised that the Government of Canada holds you responsible for any costs and expenses that it must incur to address the current situation and will take whatever steps necessary to recover any costs incurred as a result of this exercise.”

Despite repeated requests from The Telegram, nobody from Transport Canada has been willing to do an interview.

However, in an emailed statement, a spokeswoman made it clear that they haven’t made any moves to get the Orlova’s owner to pay up.

“The costs were paid out of Transport Canada’s regular operating budget. Transport Canada is considering its options regarding pursuing the owner,” the statement said.

It is unclear at this point how much the owner would be on the hook for, but as the crisis unfolded near offshore oil production facilities last winter, Transport Canada hired a vessel to tow the Orlova, and promised to indemnify Husky Energy when one of its contractors’ vessels — the Atlantic Hawk — picked up the Orlova’s tow line.

Liberal MP Scott Simms was unimpressed with the government’s response.

“I think the government is talking tough, but I don’t think they’re that tough at all,” he said. “Anybody can talk tough.”

Location unknown

NDP transport critic Olivia Chow said that right through the process, the federal government hasn’t been living up to its responsibilities.

“Transport Canada has failed to explain why approval was given to tow in the dead of winter. No. 2, Transport Canada and the minister have failed to explain how they have no idea where the ship is anymore,” she said.

“And No. 3, it has failed in pursuing the owner of the ship on bearing any responsibility. The minister has a lot to answer for. Ultimately it’s not Transport Canada, it’s the minister, Lisa Raitt.”

The statement from Transport Canada also made it clear it does not know where the Orlova is.

The government briefly had the vessel under tow, but after the line snapped, since it was no longer heading towards offshore oil rigs, they decided not to go after it.

“Transport Canada, in consultation with its partners, decided not to pursue the drifting vessel as there were no people aboard the ship and there was a serious concern for the safety of Canadian sailors involved in any potential salvage operation. The situation was monitored very closely and advice was provided as required,” the statement said.

“Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard continued to monitor the drifting vessel to verify its location and status. Transport Canada is not aware of any recent sightings of the Lyubov Orlova and the last known position of the vessel was Feb. 4, 2013, 333 nautical miles ENE of St. John’s, NL.”

The Transportation Safety Board is doing an investigation on the Charlene Hunt, the tugboat that was responsible for pulling the Orlova to the Dominican Republic for scrap, but that investigation is nowhere near completion.

Chow said she thinks Canadians will eventually get some answers.

“I have confidence in the Transportation Safety Board getting to the bottom of this. The problem is, their recommendations are regularly ignored by the minister,” she said.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

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