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Fearing ‘pollution threat,’ Ottawa steps in to remove notorious MV Farley Mowat

A Canadian Fisheries and Oceans patrol boat passes by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel Farley Mowat on Monday April 14, 2008, in Sydney, N.S.

Mike Dembeck/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It was once the notorious flagship of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, used by vigilante environmentalists to enforce marine conservation on the high seas.

But the MV Farley Mowat is now an environmental hazard itself. The 60-year-old boat sits rusting at dock in Shelburne, N.S., "where it is at risk of sinking and poses an imminent pollution threat to the environment," according to the federal government.

The Canadian Coast Guard announced on Friday it will issue a contract to remove and dispose of the Farley Mowat, after years of trying in vain to force the owner, scrap dealer Tracy Dodds, to do it.

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"Our shoreline and the water are a part of who we are … It is a very welcome relief for the people of Shelburne," the local Liberal MP, Bernadette Jordan, said in a statement.

The black-painted ship has been in the picturesque town for three years, after being seized at gunpoint by the RCMP seven years ago.

It was part of a small, militant fleet commanded by Canadian environmental crusader Paul Watson, who at the time was described as a "terrorist" by former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams.

On April 12, 2008, an RCMP tactical squad stormed the ship and accused its captain and chief officer of violating Canadian law by getting too close to the annual seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Mr. Watson, then in New York, said the arrests amounted to an "act of war."

He argued that his vessel – registered in the Netherlands – never entered Canada's 12-nautical-mile territorial limit, but Ottawa said the Fisheries Act gave it the authority to take action beyond that line.

The Fisheries Department later said its 98-metre icebreaker CCGS Des Groseilliers was "grazed" twice by the Farley Mowat during a tense encounter on the ice-covered waters. But the conservation group insisted its ship was rammed twice by the icebreaker.

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Mr. Watson's group has long used high-profile, vigilante tactics to stop hunters from killing seals, whales and other marine wildlife around the globe. Its logo is a stylized skull, much like a pirate's Jolly Roger.

The Farley Mowat's senior officers were released from a Cape Breton jail in April, 2008, after the ship's namesake, Canadian author Farley Mowat, posted their $10,000 bail. The pair were later fined $23,000 each, though they were deported before they were sentenced.

As for the ship, the former Norwegian fisheries research vessel was sold for $5,000 in 2009 and was supposed to be refitted. But that never happened. It later showed up in Lunenburg, N.S., in 2010 and then in Shelburne harbour in September, 2014.

On June 25, 2015, the ship sank at its berth, forcing the coast guard to mount a $500,000 cleanup effort that saw the vessel refloated. More than 2,000 litres of pollutants were eventually removed from the hull.

But a survey last month "found oil-contaminated water in most of the tanks and determined that based on the vessel's current condition, it is at risk of polluting if left unattended," the coast guard said Friday.

Mr. Dodds has failed to comply with court orders, and the coast guard had given him until last Monday to come up with a plan to address the pollution threat.

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Ottawa said it will try to recover costs from Mr. Dodds, and will monitor the vessel until it is removed and disposed.

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the move is part of the government's new Oceans Protection Plan to remove abandoned, derelict and wrecked vessels from the marine environment.

Video: Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil re-elected (The Canadian Press)
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