POLITICS

Ship grounded off Cape Breton has more asbestos, diesel than thought: minister

11/04/2014 03:26 EST | Updated 01/04/2015 05:59 EST
HALIFAX - Asbestos levels found on a derelict ship stranded off Cape Cape Breton are almost five times more than estimated in federal reports, says Nova Scotia's transportation minister.

Geoff MacLellan told the legislature Tuesday that the company tasked with removing the MV Miner has taken 30 tonnes of asbestos from the vessel to date — far more than the 6.6 tonnes of asbestos federal reports estimated to be on the ship.

MacLellan said a significant amount of diesel fuel has also been found after a previous federal study said there was none left on the vessel.

He said upon further verification, he would likely again plead the province's case that Ottawa should contribute financially to the effort to remove the bulk carrier, which he said was an environmental threat to Scatarie Island, a provincially protected wilderness area.

"I think it certainly strengthens our case with the federal government to say that this is an environmental contamination and an environmental issue," said MacLellan.

He said the provincial government's goal still is to complete the removal work later this month. But MacLellan later said that could change, as could the $11.9 million cost of the project because of the added work involved.

Weather conditions that have been deteriorating in the area would also play a factor in whether costs and timelines can be met, he added.

The 12,000-tonne, 223-metre bulk carrier ran aground on Scatarie Island after a tow line snapped in rough seas during transit to Turkey from Montreal in September 2011.

The federal government's position has been that the ship isn't blocking navigation nor contains any pollutants and the responsibility for the removal lies with the MV Miner's owner, Arvina Navigation.

Transport Canada did not return a message Tuesday for comment.

Progressive Conservative member Alfie MacLeod said safety should be the paramount concern as the work proceeds in an area where lobster fishermen lay their traps every spring.

"So I'd be concerned about how we approach the fuel issue and make sure it doesn't contaminate the waters for a pretty lucrative fishery," said MacLeod.

The $11.9 million contract for the wreck's removal was awarded in May to RJ MacIsaac Construction. The Antigonish, N.S., company was one of seven that bid for the work.

In awarding the contract, MacLellan said the final bid price included all of the work required by the province, including removing the vessel, salvaging its components and restoring the environmental landscape in the area to its original state.

Preparatory work at the site began in August and the cutting up of the ship's metal began in September.