Story to watch in 2012: Ship Wrecked

The MV Caribou and MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood in Edwardsville, NS before being sent to India to be broken down.

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?


  1. Stumper · August 24, 2012

    Awesome story, Sarah. As a taxpayer, I’m highly rotted. On a regular basis, the media reports on stories of derilict ferries in third world countries sinking. Are we to believe that these vessels, whose last passengers were citizens of one of the richest countries in the world, could not have been given or sold to a third world country somewhere where they could have been used for some years to come? They had excellent maintenance, up to the Canadian standards. Surely they were fit for more than the scrap heap. That it was the worlds most notorious scrap heap only adds fuel to the fire.

  2. Anonymous · August 24, 2012

    The ship breaking yards in Alang provide much needed, and relatively high paying, jobs to people who’s families would otherwise be broke. And by that I don’t mean “I cant go downtown this weekend” broke, I mean starving to death in the streets broke. India is a different sort of place. Canadian do-gooders can go pound sand.

  3. Southwester · August 24, 2012

    Ah yes, the invisible hand of the free market lifts another hardworking individual out of poverty. Safety regulations just slow us down anyway. We should do away with “safety” and let industry police itself when it comes to working conditions, don’t you think? I’m sure once those impoverished immigrants get on their feet, they’ll eventually get around to demanding safe working conditions. There’s no rush.

  4. Elling Lien · August 24, 2012

    Yes, the people of Alang need jobs, but they need jobs with dignity, working conditions that respect their basic human rights, and wages that allow them and their families to survive.

  5. Anonymous · August 24, 2012

    Agreed, just like our ancestors during the Industrial Revolution deserved those things, and over time things improved. India is a completely different world from Canada, and they need to develop at their own pace. Denying them work, because us high-and-mighty types in Canada disagree with the way they do things, is not the answer. Indian society needs to change from within, and while they’re doing that we should send them all the old ships they can break.