American buys Dominion for salvage, examines damage, and faces a legal snafu - News Leader Pictorial - March 23, 2012

March 26th, 2012 - 8:01pm

By Peter W. Rusland

Derelict ship Dominion could finally leave Cowichan Bay come about May if federal liens on the vessel are paid by new owner Rob Van Riter, officials explained.

The San Diego-based businessman had government approval to board Dominion Friday and assess it seaworthiness.

Pending her hydraulics and engines working —and sorting out thousands in fees owed to the Coast Guard for securing her to Western Stevedoring's dock — Van Riter plans to tow Dominion to Washington, then to a Mexican salvaging yard.

Van Riter has bought Dominion for $100 from Oregon owner Robert Hall.

That sale is contingent on all liens and encumbrances being lifted, Van Riter told the News Leader Pictorial as folks assessed vandalism done to the vessel during the past five years Hall left her legally in the bay.

"Every gauge has been smashed, and all the copper wire's been cut out – all for $50 for their next dope fix," Van Riter lamented.

Also, Dominion's two anchors now lie at the bay's bottom after being cut by the Coast Guard when Dominion was dragged west toward the estuary during a recent storm.

Dominion's movement bred fears among locals about her 5,700-odd gallons of diesel fuel fouling the bay's ecology.

Bay Director Lori Iannidinardo wants 168-foot Dominion hauled out, but worried taxpayers could be left paying the Coast Guard contractor's bills if Van Riter reaches a deal with the feds.

"They (government) informed Rob he is to be billed $20,000 for moving the vessel 500 yards to the dock, and a further $10,000 per month for moorage."

It's a catch-22.

"I see both sides," she said.

"Why should taxpayers have to pick up this $20,000? He needs to be accountable for a certain amount, but the feds cannot make it onerous."

The Coast Guard's Randy Farrell couldn't comment about legal wrangling in Ottawa.

"With Coast Guard environmental response, they acted on a cost-recovery basis, and under the Canada Shipping Act we go after the owner for the vessel, or cost recovery."

Iannidinardo wanted federal action far sooner to have Dominion secured and scrapped locally, to save its dismantling in Mexico where environmental laws are seen as lax.

"(Duncan's) Steel Pacific wanted Dominion from day-one."

But now that a buyer, Van Riter, has surfaced, Iannidinardo's frustrated federal hoops could anchor Dominion in the bay far longer.

"It's with the lawyers in Ottawa — it's a touchy subject," Farrell said.

"Once the anchor chains were cut, the Coast Guard took control of the vessel and moved it alongside in Cow Bay.

"When taxpayers' dollars are involved, the vessel is caught up in legal means with the owner and new owners, and they're trying to work something out."

Van Riter would welcome a solution while reckoning how much 25-tonne Dominion — to be towed beside and an 850-tonne Second World War vessel he bought stateside — would fetch as scrap in Ensenada, 70 miles south of San Diego.

"They don't allow any (marine) scrapping on the whole of the U.S. West Coast."

Still, scrap steel fetches about $365 a tonne.

Towing two boats to Mexico for recycling could make it worthwhile financially, he explained.

Dominion's metal would head to a Mexicali smelter for rebar and beams, or to Asian buyers through a Long Beach firm, he explained.

Van Riter welcomed valley MP Jean Crowder's proposed legislation to rid Canadian coasts of derelict vessels, noting he could haul and scrap many of those in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Farrell sympathized with Cowichanians wanting Dominion gone.

"If I were a resident of Cow Bay, I'd be happy to see the back end of that vessel."