The Viki Lyne II is 33 metres long and holds 16,000 litres of oil in its rusted-out belly. For four years, the derelict boat has been sitting idle in Ladysmith Harbour in British Columbia as local residents and politicians alike continually opined that if the ship were to sink, the oil inside could spread to nearby oyster farmsand worse.
Now, the boat is finally set to be removed and the pollutants in its guts disposed of, but the removal itself will be a delicate job. It will risk a significant oil spill that would endanger local wildlife and industry.
According to a tender notice filed on Monday on behalf of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the government is looking for somebody to tow the Viki Lyne II out of the harbour "as soon as possible," and to complete its safe dismantling no later than 10 weeks from its removal.
"There's an immediate risk to wildlife," said Michelle Young, program coordinator for the Georgia Strait Alliance's Clean Marine BC green boating program. "Birds could get oiled along with any other marine life in the area. There's also the potential for toxins to have a long-term effect, and there's a number of shellfish operations in the harbour."
"Promises are great, but we want to see it gone"
The government acknowledged that the Viki Lyne II posed an imminent environmental threat in 2012. Now, the ship's hull has deteriorated by as much as 75 percent in some areas, the tender states, and "the hull may be penetrated by corrosion" below the waterline. The only thing keeping the oil in, if this is the case, is "scale and marine growth."
"Safety during the tow must remain the number one priority," the tender states. "The planned route for the tow must, to the greatest extent possible, avoid sensitive marine areas."
The Viki Lyne II's hull was originally 11 millimetres thick, but ultrasonic tests revealed that it's been reduced to just 3 millimetres in parts, the tender states. If the hull gets scraped below the waterline on its way out of the harbour and the ship sinks, the "scraper" may be responsible for all of the cleanup and damages.
If the hull is breached and all 16,000 litres of oil pour out of the Viki Lyne II, the spill will be roughly five times larger than when the cargo ship MV Marathassa spilled several thousand litres of fuel into Vancouver's English Bay in 2015. The Coast Guard's delayed response to that spill was widely criticized and led observers to speculate that if a larger spill were to occur, the local government wouldn't be ready.
"It's fantastic news that a tender is going out because that means it's actually going to happen," Young said. "Promises are great, but we want to see it gone."