Multi-boat fire in False Creek renews questions about derelict vessel enforcement

Click to play video: 'Safety concerns after boat fire in Vancouver’s False Creek'
Safety concerns after boat fire in Vancouver’s False Creek
WATCH: A Thursday fire on False Creek involving three boats is once again shining a light on safety concerns about illegally-moored and derelict boats in the inlet. Cassidy Mosconi reports – Sep 8, 2023

A dramatic boat fire in Vancouver’s False Creek on Thursday has renewed concerns about the management of vessels moored in the busy waterway.

One person suffered serious burns when a trio of boats moored together went up in flames around 6 p.m.

Two of those boats have since sunk.

Click to play video: 'Fire crews battle back-to-back blazes in Vancouver'
Fire crews battle back-to-back blazes in Vancouver

While the circumstances of the occupants of the trio of boats aren’t yet clear, the fire has put the spotlight back on abandoned and illegal live-aboard vessels that have been a longstanding issue in the waterway.

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“As we know, False Creek has many vessels anchored in the creek,” Assistant Vancouver Fire Chief Ken Gemmill said Thursday evening.

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“The federal law does prohibit it, they’re not supposed to be anchored there, but it’s kind of a weird jurisdiction because not everyone is wanting to police that, especially federally, provincially or municipal.”

In fact, jurisdiction of False Creek is split between Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard and the City of Vancouver, including Vancouver police and the Vancouver Park Board.

Click to play video: 'Calls grow to do more to clean up B.C.’s coast of derelict vessels'
Calls grow to do more to clean up B.C.’s coast of derelict vessels

The City of Vancouver referred questions to Vancouver police, but said vessels in False Creek are in violation of bylaws if they fail to get a free permit or exceed the two-week summer or 20-day winter anchoring limits.

The city said police are responsible for enforcement of those bylaws, while Transport Canada “works with its partners” to ensure federal legislation, including the Wrecked Abandoned and Hazardous Vessels Act, is being followed.

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Vancouver police acknowledged they take a softer approach to potentially illegally-moored boats in the area.

“There is an affordable housing problem in the city and there are a number of people using boats in False Creek as a means of affordable housing,” Sgt. Steve Addison said.

Click to play video: 'Transport Canada to remove several derelict boats from False Creek'
Transport Canada to remove several derelict boats from False Creek

“We are really reluctant to take enforcement action that is going to further marginalize people who are really just one step away from becoming homeless.”

Last fall, Transport Canada moved to clear a dozen derelict vessels from the creek.

More recently, however, the agency has been the subject of criticism for apparent lax enforcement of the four-year-old Wrecked Abandoned and Hazardous Vessels Act. As of July, just two fines had been issued under the law over derelict boats.

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In the meantime, the investigation into the boat fire continues, though fire officials now say early indications suggest it began somehow as the man who was injured was cooking.

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