Cargo ship woes raise concerns for crew, environment, says transport workers’ union

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A cargo ship that went adrift off the Newfoundland coastline Sunday night has raised many safety concerns, both for the crew and the environment, says an inspector with the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

Transport Canada told CBC News it inspected the MV Baby Leeyn — which had all its certificates — in the days before the ship sailed and detected no mechanical problems.

Karl Risser, an inspector with the International Transport Workers’ Federation, says vessels with flags of convenience — meaning a ship registered in a country other than where the owners reside — traverse Canadian waters every day.

“A lot of times, all they care about is tonnage, and they don’t have a lot of rules and regulations,” he said.

“So it falls to Canadian port state control, or Transport Canada, to regulate these vessels and make sure they’re not leaving our ports unsafe.”

The Baby Leeyn — formerly the MV Jana — had been laid up in port for years after engine trouble and a payment dispute, and recently changed owners.

“The new company, hopefully, they did their due diligence when they came in, but a lot of times these companies are just looking to move into areas where … there’s less regulation,” said Risser.

Environmental association wants dedicated tugboat

Meanwhile, the head of the province’s environmental association is calling for a dedicated coast guard tugboat in the region.

“Had that vessel gone ashore and broken up, that wouldn’t have [been] cleaned up this year, it would have taken a couple of years,” said Stan Tobin.

The Canadian Coast Guard had to charter a tug on Sunday when the cargo ship MV Baby Leeyn broke down within two nautical miles of the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve after experiencing engine troubles.

The vessel was initially secured by the Beverly M, a tugboat from Argentia hired by owners of the Baby Leeyn, but the towline was parted due to poor weather conditions.

A second tug under charter to coast guard was able to get the disabled ship to port without environmental damage.

Tobin said the close call shows that the coast guard should have its own sea-going tug to help prevent potential shipping disasters.

“For our coast guard, that does such a wonderful job, to have to go out with hat in hand basically begging for a tug from somebody to rescue 11 people and avert an environmental disaster — is not good enough,” he told the St. John’s Morning Show.

“I don’t think the British or Norwegian coast guard would have to go out begging for a tug.”

Tobin said an advisory council to Transport Canada on marine spills and responses has been requesting a dedicated tug for the south coast, specifically the Placentia Bay area, for years.

He said the case of the Baby Leeyn illustrates the risks of having ships from all over the world — with varying degrees of mechanical and structural integrity — moving through parts of the ocean that are cherished environmental regions and fishing grounds.

“Had it been a fully loaded vessel, the assistance from those tugs might not have been enough to keep it off the rocks.”

​’Once is enough’

Tobin thinks it’s only a matter of time before another ship runs into trouble off the south coast, which is why he’s again calling on the federal government to put a first response station in the Placentia Bay area with a boat dedicated to the coast guard.

“You can say ‘well those incidents don’t happen very often,’ but once is enough,” he said.

“Whether we have that tug or whether we don’t is going to make the difference of whether we lose the south coast or Placentia Bay in years to come.”

The Turkish owners and the local ship’s agent declined CBC’s requests for an interview.

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