Selkirk officials were buoyed on Friday by the prospect that the derelict MS Lord Selkirk might finally sail away -- to a graveyard.
The vessel has been abandoned for 23 years in a slough to the north of a river-side park, Selkirk’s main tourist attraction, and city officials are eager to be rid of the craft that has become an eyesore, a magnet for vandals and a source of pollution.
Their hope that the ship will leave Selkirk permanently was encouraged this week by the presence of a Coast Guard pollution clean-up crew from Vancouver.
"I’m hoping they going to take this back to the powers that be and say, ‘They’ve really got a disaster over there. They’ve got a sick ship," Mayor Larry Johansson told media as Coast Guard crew tidied up after a week’s work on the vessel.
"It won’t be done overnight. It may not even be done this year, but this is a first step. They (federal authorities) have come out. They’ve had to acknowledge now, there is something wrong, to have the Coast Guard come out and start working on the ship," the mayor said.
A huge block of ice stymied the Coast Guard’s goal to drain the hulk of its tanks of diesel fuel and engine oil and their spokesman told Selkirk city council they’ll be back to finish the job.
"We hope to be back when the ice is gone, maybe two weeks a month," said Randy Farrell, an environmental response specialist with the Pacific region’s Canadian Coast Guard.
Once the pride of the Red River, the MS Lord Selkirk hosted Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on an visit over 40 years ago.
The ship’s very first First Mate, Walter Walachuk, said from his home across the street Friday that the ship’s long past its final voyage.
"It’s an abandoned ship that hasn’t been looked after for more than 20 years," he said Friday. "It’s outlived it’s time."
It’s taken 23 years to get action on the hulk and not even a fire set accidentally by local teens on a drinking jag some years ago has managed to leverage the political will to take it the next step.
But in the last year, with help from local Conservative MP James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake) and the province’s NDP government, the financial load on the city immediately north of Winnipeg looks a lot lighter, the mayor said.
"This is exactly what I thought would come out of it," Johansson said after the Coast Guard briefed city council Friday in Selkirk. "We’re just hoping to have partners on this; it definitely shouldn’t fall on the city of Selkirk taxpayers . . to get rid of that eyesore," the mayor said.
The mayor said the city needs the financial backing of the province and the federal government to cover the millions of dollars it will likely cost to scuttle the vessel somewhere or have it properly dismantled.
Despite the ice, the Coast Guard assured the civic leaders the hulk posed no environmental threat to the land or the water it’s resting in, at least not right now. As a precaution, the federal crew erected a containment boom around the vessel. The Coast Guard confirmed there had been a leak in the past, of oil or fuel. The telltale signature sheen is frozen in the ice block inside the ship. The block is 1.8 metres high, by 10 metres wide and 15 metres deep and it’s encased in the ship’s cargo hold.
"I’m a west coast boy," said Farrel, the Coast Guard’s pollution response specialist. "I’ve never seen ice inside a boat."
Farrell told Selkirk city council his job is to drain the vessel of fuel and oil so it can float. Then it’s up to the municipality to haul it off, a situation much like one that’s played out with 20 similar derelict vessels he’s handled on the west coast.
But as the ice melts, the fuel will float free, raising the risk of contamination, meaning the Coast Guard will monitor its melt closely with civic officials in order to time their return to drain it.
Earlier, Selkirk received the long awaited results of an environmental study on contaminants contained in the vessel.
"There’s a laundry list from A to Z with contaminants coming off that ship," Johansson said. They include arsenic, lead and the tanks of diesel.
The ship was launched in the late 1960s just as the era of freight shipping and lake cruises were drawing to a close. Various efforts to sell the ship off for scrap have failed.