VANCOUVER - The sound of boat horns and cheering from hundreds of excited onlookers saturated the smoke-filled ocean air as demolition crews sank a former Canadian warship off the B.C. coast on Saturday.
After years of legal wrangling, the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia successfully sank the former HMCS Annapolis in the waters of Halkett Bay Marine Provincial Park off Gambier Island northwest of Vancouver.
"I'm just elated — it went down perfectly," said society director Larry Reeves shortly after the sinking, which took place on Saturday.
"It's a huge sense of accomplishment and relief that it's finally over."
The society acquired the decommissioned destroyer in 2008 with the intention of turning it into an artificial reef, but changing environmental regulations and a variety of legal challenges delayed the project.
Most recently, the Save Halkett Bay Marine Park Society petitioned the courts to overturn Environment Canada's sinking permit, arguing that paint on the ship's hull contained toxic chemicals.
But last month a federal court judge dismissed the group's concerns, saying the vessel had not been painted for two decades and that the toxins were not in an active state.
On Saturday shortly before 1:30 p.m., the staggered roar of 12 cutting charges detonating loudly from the stern to the bow of the ship rang across the relatively calm water.
The vessel disappeared less than two minutes later.
The ship will provide habitat for marine life and serve as a destination for recreational divers. Holes were cut into its hull to allow easier access for qualified divers to explore its inner workings.
"Having the ship here is a real focal point and it raises the awareness of people and it raises their interest in it," said Reeves.
"It's hopefully going to really highlight what kind of beautiful diverse marine life we have in B.C."
The HMCS Annapolis served in the Canadian Navy for more than 30 years before being decommissioned in 1998 and sold to the artificial reef society 10 years later.
Besides the hundreds of people who turned out in person to watch the sinking, others tuned in for the live webcast.
Viewers included former commanding officers and crew members who had served on the vessel.
Rick Wall recalled working onboard as the assistant engineering officer between 1978 and 1980.
He said it was a relief that the vessel was not being scrapped and turned into "razor blades."
"I hate seeing ships that I served on just going to breakers yards," said Wall. "It's nice that it's actually going to be doing something else.
"The engineer in me likes that, repurposing something and getting some value out of it."
The site will be open on Monday once divers finish an underwater safety inspection.
This is the seventh ship sunk by the artificial reef society in B.C. waters.
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