Sunday, April 15, 2007

Canada Spends Millions To Sink Ship

The Canadian Navy spent more than $4 million to get a retired destroyer "clean as a whistle" before it can be sunk in a West Coast naval exercise next month. Recent environmental regulations are making disposal of old ships an expensive project in ports across the country. But Lt.-Cmdr. Garry Hansen, the officer in charge of the 18-month cleanup of the 35-year-old destroyer HMCS Huron, said it's money well spent. The Huron will be sunk next month. Behind the decision to scour the vessel of potentially hazardous materials was a change in the way the international community regards hazardous waste disposal and the sale and treatment of retired military equipment. Old navy ships fall into both categories. In the late 1990s, Canada signed on to at least two international conventions that have made it all but impossible to export used warships for salvage without removing all military equipment, conducting a complete cleanup and cutting the ship into such comparatively small pieces as to make the entire exercise just too expensive. Jeff Taylor, head of Environment Canada's industrial programs unit on the West Coast, says as a result of one of those international agreements, the so-called London Convention, in 2001, Environment Canada issued revised cleanup standards for ocean disposal of vessels.
HMCS Huron (DDH 281)
It is a 21-page list of everything required to be removed, from oil and grease to hazardous materials such as mercury, lead, copper, zinc and PCBs to debris, insulation - including asbestos - and marine paints and coatings. New guidelines were also put in place. "Actually our cleanup standards have been copied all over the world," said Taylor. Hansen described them as "extremely rigorous." "They're more rigorous than any other country in the world," he said, based on his own experience and talking to colleagues in other navies now faced with the prospect of having to dispose of their own warships. Hansen said from the outset the navy committed to meeting and even bettering what Environment Canada required. "It's true, we didn't even try to cut any corners," he said, adding that as a native West Coaster he is an avid outdoorsman and "pretty keyed in on the environment." "I was pretty proud that the navy and the (Canadian Forces) in general didn't try to influence this process at all. And the ship is clean. We put a lot of effort into it and I'm pretty proud of that." Beginning in the summer of 2005, every piece of military hardware was removed from the Huron. Much of it was returned to navy stores for possible use in the three remaining destroyers of Huron's class that are still in active service.
HMCS Huron (DDH 281)
A massive effort followed to remove all the so-called high value material for recycling. That included all the aluminum, brass, nickel, and copper. "We removed well over 500,000 pounds (227,000 kilos) of those recyclable materials," he said, adding that most of that went to salvagers and scrap dealers. A team of navy engineers from Montreal surveyed the ship for hazardous materials. Hansen said hundreds and hundreds of samples of every piece of electrical equipment and cable were taken with a particular eye toward polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Just removing the kilometres of wiring from the ship turned into a huge undertaking. "At one point we had about 120 contractors aboard for virtually a month removing wiring, there's just tonnes and miles of it," Hansen said. The same went for oil and grease. Every space had to be cleaned to the point where there is "no oil to the touch," which Hansen said was done in every crevice and corner. "You can literally eat off the bilges," he boasted, adding the extra effort was needed to satisfy Environment Canada. "(Their) inspectors are that meticulous. They crawl right down into the bilges, under the engine platforms, into the fuel tanks." Hansen said a senior salvage engineer from the U.S. Navy was aboard and said it was the best cleanup he'd ever seen.
The United States has hundreds of mothballed warships, presenting an extremely expensive problem for military authorities and the government. In total, Hansen said the disposal of the
HMCS Huron is costing the navy roughly about $7.5 million, of which about $4.4 million was in cleanup to meet the new federal standard. Environment Canada certified the ship was clean and issued a permit March 31 under the Environmental Protection Act to allow the navy to dispose of the ship at sea. "I think we got very good value for our dollar and we can sleep at nights knowing that this former naval asset is not going to have a harmful effect on the waters in Canada," Hansen said. The navy plans to tow HMCS Huron from Esquimalt harbour May 12, taking about a day and a half to reach a military weapons range about 100 kilometres off the west coast of Vancouver Island. As part of an international naval exercise dubbed Trident Fury, the hulk will be sent two kilometres to the bottom of the Pacific using "Sea Sparrow missiles, aircraft machine guns and naval gunnery" including torpedoes. "She was a good ship right up to the end and some people look at this as one last service to the navy," said Hansen. "But there will still be a lot of people sad to see her sink."

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