Transport Canada Marine Safety and Security documents, which CBC News waited more than five years to obtain after filing a request for federal access to information, say the corrosion that led to the suspension of MV Holiday Island in 2016 was earlier should have been found.
Repairs to extensive corrosion in the ballast tanks in 2016 meant the ship was unavailable until October of that season.
Instead, the route from Wood Islands, PEI, to Caribou, Nova Scotia, was made by ferry, resulting in a 15 percent drop in traffic, according to ferry company Northumberland Ferries. MV Confederation made just six trips per day compared to the company’s usual nine trips when both ships were in operation.
And on days when the MV Confederation suffered from mechanical problems this season, there was no ferry service at all.
The water in ballast tanks helps keep a ship level — something that’s especially important when loading a passenger ferry, John Dalziel said. An associate professor at Dalhousie University, he has worked in the shipping industry for more than 50 years in ship construction and repair supervision and as a safety inspector for Transport Canada Marine Safety and Security.
“You might have a big truck on one side and a motorcycle on the other, so it’s going to lean forward,” he explained. “So you want to keep that under control.”
The MV Holiday Island has been subject to Transport Canada’s delegated inspection program since 2007. The ship is owned by the federal government, in the person who holds the office of Minister of Transport. Northumberland Ferries is contracted to charter and operate the vessel and Lloyd’s Register is contracted to carry out inspections on behalf of Transport Canada.
Corrosion of the ballast tanks was reported as a concern by Lloyd’s Register inspectors in 2007 as the coating on the tanks was poor and these tanks are filled with salt water which is corrosive. Transport Canada officials said inspectors from Lloyd’s, an engineering and technical services firm based in the UK, said there would be annual inspections of the tanks to keep an eye on their condition.
“That was a very old ship”
Given the age of MV Holiday Island, Dalziel said this corrosion needed to be followed closely.
“It was a very old ship. Most ships last 30 years,” Dalziel said. “It was 45 years – well past his normal life. And that’s why you should look at it very carefully.”
The documents, obtained through a federal information request to CBC News, point to a May 2015 inspection report from Lloyd’s stating that all tanks were inspected and found to be in good structural condition.
However, Transport Canada officials say, “It seems reasonable to expect that some of the defects identified, where perforation and excessive corrosion are present and require immediate repair, should have been observable based on previous inspections prior to May 2016.”
Ultrasonic thickness measurements of the steel tanks showed extensive corrosion during an inspection in Les Méchins, Quebec in June 2016. Officials said this type of measurement exercise would have been warranted in 2012 but was not carried out.
Dalziel said excessive corrosion like the one seen at MV Holiday Island in 2016 doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s not like bumping into anything. That happened over a long period of time. That was in very bad shape. It should never have been allowed to get into that state.”
CBC News asked two other Canadian marine experts to give their assessment of the documents, and both agreed that for the corrosion to have progressed as far as 2016, something must have been missed in previous inspections.
Ship is “safe and seaworthy”
CBC News asked Northumberland Ferries for an interview, but Donald Cormier, general manager and vice president of operations, agreed to answer written questions only.
He said that as required, Lloyd’s conducted annual visual inspections to ensure the ship was safe to operate between 2007 and 2015.
At no time, either before or after 2016, was the safety of the ship or the watertightness of the hull compromised.– Donald Cormier, Northumberland Ferries
Regarding why thickness measurements were not taken in 2012, he said: “Northumberland Ferries would not question an assessor’s assessment unless we believe the condition of the ship is unsafe.” In that case, Cormier said, MV Holiday Island is “safe and seaworthy”.
He added: “At no time, before or after 2016, was the safety of the ship or the watertightness of the hull compromised.
“Maintenance of older ships is an ongoing challenge and in this case the ship owner plays a key role,” said Cormier.
Cited Third Party Information
Transport Canada officials agree with Northumberland Ferries’ assessment, saying that from 2007 to 2015 MV Holiday Island passed its annual inspections and issued all the necessary certificates. Transport Canada officials also said they oversaw Lloyd’s inspection work on the ferry in 2014 and 2016.
Still, Transport Canada officials say in the June 2016 inspection documents that Lloyd’s Register should provide “an explanation for the apparent irregularity in the inspection” of the tanks.
CBC News asked Lloyd’s for an explanation, but Nicola Good, head of brand and external relations for Lloyd’s marine and offshore business, wrote that no one works for Lloyd’s anymore, which was involved in inspections of MV Holiday Island from 2007 to 2016 was.
Good said that answering questions from recordings would require third-party consent, which she said would likely impose limitations on what could be released.
Transport Canada officials said they were unable to share details of their discussions with Lloyd’s because it was third-party information. They said that after MV Holiday Island’s suspension in 2016, Lloyd’s Register was audited and an action plan developed to address the findings, and a follow-up was carried out by Transport Canada.
Again, Transport Canada officials said details of the audit and action plan could not be shared with CBC News because they involve third parties.
CBC News contacted Lloyd’s Register again after receiving this information about the audit and action plan. A spokesman for the engineering and technical services company said it would consider commenting, but none had been received a few days later.
Lloyd’s still inspects Northumberland Ferries ships on behalf of Transport Canada.
New ferry planned for 2027
CBC News asked Transport Canada for inspection documents that would describe the current condition of MV Holiday Island in 2022, but officials said they didn’t have those documents.
Instead, CBC News was instructed to contact Northumberland Ferries.
Ferry officials provided CBC News with a one-page summary of MV Holiday Island’s dry dock in May 2021, including the results of more than 1,300 steel thickness measurements taken on the hull and ballast tanks. The documents show that 97 percent of those measurements met acceptable standards, while the other 3 percent of the measurements resulted in repairs with additional steelwork.
Cormier said decisions and work made during the 2016 dry dock ensured that the MV Holiday Island’s lifespan will be extended by at least 10 years.
Although Cormier said additional steel work is usually done each year, he would not disclose how much that annual work costs.
Federal Procurement and Public Services Canada officials have confirmed that planning work is underway for a new Holiday Island II on the PEI to Nova Scotia route, but construction has not been scheduled to begin.
Those responsible for procurement expect the new ferry to be delivered in 2027.