On derelicts and dereliction

Remember that annoying kid you used to play ball with, who always refused to go get the ball when he batted it over the fence? Oh, Canada…

If you’ve heard the name ‘Lyubov Orlova’, you’re probably either a Russian film buff or an angry Newfoundlander.

For the Russians, she’s the actress who starred in the appropriately titled 1936 hit film Circus, among others, and was awarded the Stalin Prize. The Soviets named a minor planet after her for her efforts.

For the Newfoundlanders, she’s the decrepit former cruise boat that was tied up in St. John’s Harbour for 16 months (owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to both creditors and crew, and costing the St. John’s Port Authority over $100,000 in additional expenses and lost revenue), before a dramatically botched operation to transport her to a buyer in the Caribbean.

How To Lose A Ship (For Dummies)

So let’s get this straight. A more or less derelict tugboat (which was built in 1962, hadn’t sailed in two years and required a week of repairs in Halifax after nearly sinking en route to its mission in St. John’s) was commissioned to tow the Orlova to the new buyer. Unsurprisingly – in hindsight, now that we know about the problems with the tugboat – the operation failed. The cables snapped, the Orlova went one way, and the tugboat went the other way – right back to St. John’s to be grounded by Transport Canada (and take the place of the Orlova sitting derelict in the harbour).

The Orlova – after drifting toward the vicinity of the Hibernia oil platform – was towed away and briefly taken up by another tug, but that one wasn’t able to hold onto the feisty little abandoned vessel either. The cable snapped and now the Orlova is bouncing about the Atlantic, a potential hazard for vessels, sea life and environment alike, since the Canadian government refuses to go pick it up.

Tugboat Charlene Hunt tows the Lyubov Orlova out of the St. John's Harbour on Jan. 23. Photo by Graham Kennedy.
Tugboat Charlene Hunt tows the Lyubov Orlova out of the St. John’s Harbour on Jan. 23. Photo by Graham Kennedy.

Only, nobody is quite sure where she even is anymore: according to the owner, the tracking beacons aboard the vessel have now failed as well.

Is anything wrong this picture?

Like, maybe the fact that it shouldn’t have happened?

The dangers of cutbacks and scaling back our federal regulatory agencies have been warned against ever since the federal Conservatives came to office, by experts, unions, international agencies, provincial and municipal governments, researchers, the knowledgeable public, and more. More inspectors and resources means the likelihood of instances like the above – a derelict being allowed to tow a derelict, with predictable results – would be reduced.

And now, as though everybody involved needed to look any worse than they already do, the federal government is refusing to go after this little-boat-that-could [not be towed anywhere].

Really? This isn’t a game of 120’s, where you can go out the back door by losing so dramatically that you actually win. Playing ‘the-stingy-baby-that-won’t-accept-responsibility-because-it’s-not-its-fault’ card? Really? Does anybody really do that post-grade-school? Is shirking responsibility the new winter fashion in Ottawa?
Because even worse than doing little to prevent a bad situation, is doing nothing to respond to it once it’s happened.

The attitude of the Canadian government – that the Orlova’s out of our territorial waters so it’s not our problem anymore – is not only irresponsibly negligent, it undermines Canada’s credibility as a modern nation that’s capable of doing, well, the simplest things, really.

When what we ‘must’ and ‘should’ do are one and the same

The Canadian government’s actions demonstrate an inferior moral standard which says that it doesn’t care what happens outside its immediate, minimal legal realm of responsibility. The study of ethics recognizes two forms of moral obligations: perfect duties (stuff you are compelled to do for some reason, for instance by law) and imperfect duties (stuff you should do, because it’s the right thing to do, but nobody will force you to). This might fall into the latter category, but Canada needs to do better than let its problems float beyond its borders. Immanuel Kant would smack Stephen Harper upside the head.

Besides, is that the sort of morality Canada expects environmental regulation to be based on? If the government allows a pipeline from Manitoba to British Columbia, and it springs a leak in Alberta, are the adjacent provinces allowed to simply ignore it? Are they going to be willing to simply ignore it?

The logic reflects the reason Canada bears so much guilt for the destruction of the offshore fishery. By failing to recognize – and push for – sustainable fishing practices beyond its borders, and thus acting as though what happened to the fish only mattered while they were swimming about within our borders, the government’s inaction contributed immensely to the destruction of the fishery and the economic ruination of much of the East Coast.

First the boat, then the Arctic

But it’s not just about bygones: this sort of attitude has a bearing on current politics as well. Canada is trying to take a leadership role in the Arctic, and indeed assert control over parts of the Arctic that it considers within the territorial borders of Canada. These are not without dispute. The U.S., for instance – among other countries – has challenged Canada’s right to claim sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, saying that it’s an international strait, not Canadian internal waters.

One of the various arguments advanced to defend Canada’s claim is that it makes most practical sense for Canada to be in charge of environmental protection and shipping infrastructure in the area. Reeeeeally, hey? The country that can’t even be bothered to go and fetch a derelict and now dangerous boat that it allowed to drift free from its waters would make for a good Arctic steward?

Unless Canada smartens up and goes to fetch that wayward ball it accidentally batted over the fence, its arguments for having any credibility in being able to administer the Arctic fall to pieces. A country like that not only cannot provide effective stewardship of the Arctic, but it must by all means be prevented from even trying.

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