Looming environmental disaster in Quebec as discarded ship could break up

Local authorities in Quebec are warning of a looming environmental disaster if nothing is done to salvage a discarded bulk carrier.

The Kathryn Spirit was abandoned by its Mexican owners four years ago at the city of Beauharnois near Montreal and the St Lawrence River. The Mexican firm has since declared bankruptcy and all pumping operations to keep the ship upright have come to a halt.

Beauharnois mayor Claude Haineault has warned rain and snow are accumulating in the hold of the ship, and with the pumping operations stopped, he is concerned the open hatch ship could begin to list and eventually capsize.

“I think it will be a very big environmental disaster very soon,” Haineault said, suggesting oil could leak into the river and affect Montreal’s access to drinking water. The mayor has asked both federal and provincial governments to help salvage the 1967-built vessel.

The Kathryn Spirit is a vessel with a long history of infamy in Canada. In 2011, after a period of lay-up, the Kathryn Spirit was sold to the Groupe St-Pierre for scrapping. The company decided that they would carry out the demolition at Beauharnois on the shores of Lake Saint-Louis. The mayor of Beauharnois opposed the operation, even though it would take place in an area zoned for industry, due to fears about environmental pollution.

In August 2012, in the face of continued opposition from the municipality, the Quebec Ministry of the Environment and environmental groups, the Groupe St-Pierre decided to withdraw from the demolition project and resold the Kathryn Spirit to the Mexican company Reciclajes Ecológicos Marítimos. The American-owned, Bolivian-flagged tug Craig Trans, built in 1944, was hired to tow her to Mexico, but was detained at Halifax by Transport Canada due to safety deficiencies and poor living conditions. The tug’s crew were later repatriated with charitable donations, and the tug arrested by creditors.

By May 2013 there were further delays in the departure of Kathryn Spirit, due to water ingress, lack of survey for the voyage and other environmental concerns, and a fear that lower water levels might prevent her departure.


Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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