September 15, 2016 2:44 pm
Updated: September 15, 2016 7:47 pm

Abandoned Kathryn Spirit ship must be stabilized before winter: experts

For more than five years, people in a Quebec town have wondered what will happen with an abandoned cargo ship moored in the St. Lawrence River. It's now deteriorated to the point it's in danger of tipping over. As Mike Armstrong reports, that could put Montreal's drinking water at risk.

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A rusting abandoned ship on the Saint Lawrence River should be properly stabilized before winter, according to environmentalists and local politicians.

The 153-metre long Kathryn Spirit sits just offshore from the town of Beauharnois, Que., listing precariously to its port side.

The bulk carrier was towed to the town in 2011 to be dismantled by a local company, Excavation René St-Pierre Inc.

When the town refused to issue a permit, the company sold the ship to a Mexican recycler.

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Last year, that new owner declared bankruptcy and officially abandoned the ship.

“He hadn’t asked permission from the town,” said councillor Gaëtan Dagenais.

“We refused because it’s not a zone for dismantling boats. There are places to do that.”

Pollutants were removed from the ship in 2013, but environmentalists say there is still oil, PCBs and asbestos on board.

This spring, mooring lines were put up to prevent the Kathryn Spirit from tipping more, but it didn’t work.

In June, some of the cables snapped and the ship tilted about 20 degrees.

There are calls for the federal government to act before the cold weather sets in.

Many fear that ice could move the ship over the winter, causing it to tilt more and possibly fall over in the spring thaw.

“Every spring, there is a problem with that ship,” said Anne Minh-Thu Quach, the local NDP member of parliament.

“The ship is in lamentable condition and it will be worse if ice settles in again. Every spring thaw, the ship tips more.”

The Canadian Coast Guard has taken over the site, but that hasn’t prevented explorers from boarding the ship and posting videos of their exploits online.

Earlier this year, a fire was started on the Kathryn Spirit.

It was extinguished by firefighters, but they now say the ship is listing and unsafe, so they won’t go onboard if there’s another fire.

A working group released a study in June and found the ship had deteriorated to the point it can’t be towed away.

The only solution is to dismantle it where she is now; the study suggests building a dry dock around the Kathryn Spirit.

It would mean dumping rock and gravel in the water and creating a platform 7.5 meters wide around the ship that would stick out of the water, just over a half-meter high.

The federal department of Fisheries and Oceans is studying options, but has yet to release a timetable.

The project to dismantle the Kathryn Spirit is expected to cost $10 to $15 million.

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