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Rotting hulk closer to removal

Coast Guard crew assesses Selkirk ship

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Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press
The once-grand MS Lord Selkirk sits listing and leaking in a Selkirk slough. The ship contains contaminants such as lead and arsenic.

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Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press The once-grand MS Lord Selkirk sits listing and leaking in a Selkirk slough. The ship contains contaminants such as lead and arsenic.

SELKIRK -- Officials were buoyed on Friday by the prospect the derelict MS Lord Selkirk might finally sail away to a graveyard.

The vessel has been abandoned for 23 years in a slough near a river-side park, Selkirk's main tourist attraction, and city officials are eager to be rid of the craft that is polluted and has become a magnet for vandals.

Their hope that the ship will leave Selkirk was encouraged this week by the presence of a Coast Guard pollution clean-up crew from Vancouver.

"I'm hoping they're 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 a 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 of draining the hulk's tanks of diesel fuel and engine oil.

Their spokesman told Selkirk council they'll be back to finish the job.

"We hope to be back when the ice is gone, maybe two weeks to 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 more than 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 managed to leverage the political will to take it to the next step.

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. "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 cost to scupper the vessel somewhere or have it properly dismantled.

The Coast Guard assured civic leaders the hulk poses no environmental threat to the land or the water 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 tell-tale 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.

Farrell told Selkirk 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. As the ice melts, the fuel will float, raising the risk of contamination, meaning the Coast Guard will monitor its melt closely.

Earlier, Selkirk received the results of an environmental study on contaminants 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.

Various efforts to sell the ship for scrap have failed.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 0

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