This year saw a disgraceful end to an otherwise regal life for two Newfoundland ferries. Sold in August, the MV Caribou and MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood wound up in Alang, India, where they were dismantled at a notorious ship-breaking yard. Known world-wide for its deplorable working conditions and barely existent environmental regulations, the facility uses unskilled, under-equipped migrant workers to dismantle beached ships that leak toxic fluids into the ocean. Heck, it was even the star of the NFBs 2004 documentary Shipbreakers, showing the horrors of the contemporary ship-breaking industry. The United Nations Human Rights Council reports that 209 workers were killed at the Alang ship-breaking yard between 1996 and 2003.
In other words, it’s a huge deal that Marine Atlantic, a Crown corporation, is in any way tied up with this.
Originally, Marine Atlantic sold the Caribou and the Smallwood to two different companies—Comrie Ltd., of St. Vincent, and Merrion Navigation S.A., of the Marshall Islands. They used a U.K.-based brokerage company to secure the sale.
“One of the main conditions of sale included a commitment that should either buyer decide to recycle the vessels, it be done at a yard with full green recycling facilities in compliance with International Maritime Organization guidelines,” reads a seven-page document released by Marine Atlantic after the media jumped on the story. The document also states that disposal in a “non-green friendly manner… would constitute a breach of the terms of sale and Marine Atlantic [would] consider its options up to and including legal action.”
So you’d expect that when Comrie Ltd. and Merrion Navigation quickly sold the ships to an Indian company that had them beached in Alang by mid-October, Marine Atlantic would have been a) mortified and b) standing by with an army of lawyers.
That doesn’t seem to be the case. Marine Atlantic told The Cape Breton Post that their lawyers were “in the process of obtaining additional input with respect to the final disposal of the vessels,” in early November. Tara Laing, Marine Atlantic’s Communications Manager, had no further updates for us. She also informed us that the final sale documents could not be released to us.
So we did a bit of Googling, and easily found that both St. Vincent and the Marshall Islands are on the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s Flags of Convenience list. In other words, those countries have lax laws. Ship owners looking to dodge taxes and, oh, environmental regulations would do well to register boats with them.
What wasn’t easily found were websites for these companies. Or any information at all, save for a document that lists stats on a ship bought by Merrion and dropped off in Alang.
The story got even sketchier when John Andrews, from St. John’s-based Fogo Boat Brokerage, called the CBC Radio National Affairs program The Current and claimed that Marine Atlantic had used dodgy methods to advertise the call for bids on the ships.
Marine Atlantic maintains that they followed standard operating procedures.
So, why haven’t they offered profuse apologies and produced an army of lawyers? If they were so concerned with a socially and environmentally responsible end to their boats, why did they sell them to two companies operating under Flags of Convenience? Has this happened before?
And, most importantly, WTF?