POLITICS

Ship stranded off Cape Breton has been stripped of valuable metals, company says

08/17/2012 03:19 EDT | Updated 10/17/2012 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - A company that has committed to dismantling a ship that's been stranded off Cape Breton for almost a year is accusing another firm of stripping the vessel of all of its valuable metals.

Abe Shah, a senior partner with the Bennington Group, makes the allegation in a letter to the Nova Scotia government that his company released to several news media organizations.

Shah said the province's Natural Resources Department hired a company last year to remove floatable items such as chairs and tables from the MV Miner, but instead the firm removed all precious metals.

"In every room, most of the floatables are still present," Shah says in his letter to the department dated Aug. 9.

"Whereas the brass on portholes, the brass on the captain's tables, stainless steel kitchen tables bolted to the floor, copper cabling that ran from the stern to the bow and from the engines to the electrical units, etc. have all been removed.

"The contractor's actions have deprived the owner and Bennington of non ferrous-items valued at more than $500,000."

The letter does not identify the contractor. But last fall, the provincial government hired Dutch company Mammoet Salvage to remove loose items and contaminants from the ship.

Bas Coppes, the president of the company's American division, said crews weren't able to remove all the floatable items because of the winter weather. He also said allegations that his company was stripping the ship are "ridiculous."

"We never took any brass or any valuable metals from the ship," Coppes said Friday in an interview. "We removed things like blankets, pillows, mattresses, all small things, all loose things."

Coppes said he doesn't remember seeing anything particularly valuable on the ship, calling most of the items on board "trash."

Shah includes a photo in his correspondence with the Natural Resources Department that he says shows it's been stripped of brass.

Bruce Nunn, a spokesman for the department, said government employees oversaw Mammoet Salvage's entire operation and there is no evidence that valuable metals were taken.

"There's no record that anything other than environmentally hazardous waste was removed," Nunn said.

Asked if it's possible someone went on the ship to take the metals, Nunn replied, "The ship's been there unsecured for more than seven months."

In an interview, Shah said he's no longer sure his New York-based company will make a profit from salvaging the ship, but he has no intention of backing out because it could harm his reputation.

"I put my name to it," he said. "I have a commitment."

Shah said any delays in the dismantlement of the MV Miner rest with the provincial and federal governments.

Premier Darrell Dexter has repeatedly called on Ottawa to accept a greater role in removing the ship, but Transport Canada says it's the responsibility of the Bennington Group.

The MV Miner ran aground on Scaterie Island on Sept. 20, 2011, while being towed to a scrapyard in Turkey.

Removal of the 230-metre bulk carrier was expected to start this week after more than a month of delays, but so far, there's been no progress.

Shah said the company needs both levels of government to conduct a pre-demolition site survey of the MV Miner before any salvaging can begin.

The company's provincial work authority expires Aug. 31. The plan was to have the work completed before the more active part of the hurricane season, which is usually in September.