Corrosion missed during inspections grounded P.E.I. ferry, documents show


Transport Canada Marine Safety and Security documents that CBC News waited more than five years to receive, after filing a federal access to information request, say the corrosion that led to the suspension of MV Holiday Island in 2016 should have been found earlier. 

Repairs to extensive corrosion in the ballast tanks in 2016 meant the ship wasn’t available until October of that season.

Instead, the Wood Islands, P.E.I., to Caribou, Nova Scotia, route was covered by one ferry, leading to a 15 per cent drop in traffic according to the ferry company, Northumberland Ferries. MV Confederation was making only six runs a day versus the company’s usual nine when both ships were operational. 

And on days when MV Confederation suffered mechanical issues that season, there was no ferry service at all.

The water in ballast tanks helps keep a vessel level — something that’s particularly important when loading a passenger ferry, said John Dalziel. The adjunct professor at Dalhousie University worked more than 50 years in the marine industry in ship construction and repair supervision, and as a safety inspector for Transport Canada Marine Safety and Security.

“You may have a big truck on one side and a motorcycle on the other, so it’s going to lean over,” he explained. “So you want to keep this under control.” 

The June 2016 deficiency notice on MV Holiday Island included this photo showing a hole in the forward bulkhead (dark space in middle) caused by corrosion. (Transport Canada document)

MV Holiday Island has been under Transport Canada’s delegated inspection program since 2007. The vessel is owned by the federal government, in the person of whoever holds the job of transport minister. Northumberland Ferries is contracted to lease and operate the ship, and Lloyd’s Register is contracted to do inspections on behalf of Transport Canada.

Corrosion of the ballast tanks was raised as a concern by Lloyd’s Register inspectors in 2007 because the coating on the tanks was poor and these tanks are filled with saltwater, which is corrosive. Transport Canada officials say inspectors from Lloyd’s, an engineering and technical services company based in the United Kingdom, said there would be annual inspections of the tanks to keep an eye on their condition. 

‘This was a very old ship’

Given the age of MV Holiday Island, Dalziel said this corrosion needed to be tracked closely. 

“That was a very old ship. Most ships last 30 years,” said Dalziel. ‘It was 45 years — way past its normal life. And so you should look at that very carefully.” 

The documents CBC News received through a federal access to Information request point to a Lloyd’s inspection report from May 2015 that says all the tanks were inspected and their structural condition was good.

However, Transport Canada officials say, “it would appear reasonable to expect that some of the deficiencies noted where perforation and excessive corrosion is present and requires immediate repair ought to have been observable previous to May 2016 based on previous inspection.”

Ultrasonic thickness measurements of the steel tanks revealed extensive corrosion during an inspection in Les Méchins, Quebec in June 2016. Officials said that kind of measurement exercise would have been warranted in 2012, but wasn’t done. 

Dalziel said excessive corrosion like that seen on MV Holiday Island in 2016 doesn’t happen overnight. 

“It’s not like banging into something. That happened over a period of time. That was in very bad condition. It should never have been allowed to get into that condition.” 

John Dalziel is an adjunct professor at Dalhousie University who worked more than 50 years in the marine industry, including jobs involving ship construction and repair supervision. (Submitted by John Dalziel)

CBC News asked two other Canadian marine experts to give their assessment of the documents and they both agreed something must have been missed in earlier inspections for the corrosion to have progressed so far by 2016. 

Vessel is ‘safe and seaworthy’

CBC News asked Northumberland Ferries for an interview, but general manager and vice-president of operations Donald Cormier would agree to answer written questions only.

He said annual visual inspections, as required, were conducted by Lloyd’s to ensure the vessel was safe to operate between 2007 and 2015. 

At no time, before or after 2016, was the safety of the vessel or the watertight integrity of the hull at risk.– Donald Cormier, Northumberland Ferries

In regards to why thickness measurements were not taken in 2012, he said, “Northumberland Ferries would not challenge a surveyor’s assessment unless we believed the condition of the ship was not safe.” In this case, Cormier said MV Holiday Island was “safe and seaworthy.”

He added: “At no time, before or after 2016, was the safety of the vessel or the watertight integrity of the hull at risk.

“Maintenance of older vessels is an ongoing challenge and in this instance, the vessel owner plays a key role,” said Cormier. 

Third-party information cited 

Transport Canada officials agree with the Northumberland Ferries assessment, saying that from 2007 to 2015, MV Holiday Island passed its annual inspections and was issued all required certificates. Transport Canada officials also said they monitored 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 of the apparent irregularity concerning the inspection” of the tanks. 

This is an image from the June 2016 deficiency report showing corrosion in the aft heeling tank on MV Holiday Island’s port side. Accompanying text says the girder in the middle of the photo was ‘separated and holed.’ (Transport Canada document)

CBC News asked Lloyd’s for an explanation, but Nicola Good, head of brand and external relations for the Lloyd’s marine and offshore business, wrote that no one is still working for Lloyd’s who was involved with inspections of MV Holiday Island from 2007 to 2016.

Good said answering questions from records would require third-party consents, which she said would would likely put constraints on what could be released. 

Transport Canada officials said they are not able to share details of their discussions with Lloyd’s because it’s considered third-party information. They did say that after the 2016 suspension of MV Holiday Island, Lloyd’s Register was audited and an action plan was developed to address the findings, and a follow-up was conducted by Transport Canada.

Again, Transport Canada officials said any details about the audit and action plan could not be shared with CBC News because they involve third parties. 

After repairs in mid-2016, MV Holiday Island has been back on the Wood Islands-Caribou run for summer service alongside MV Confederation. ‘At no time, before or after 2016, was the safety of the vessel or the watertight integrity of the hull at risk,’ says Donald Cormier of Northumberland Ferries. (Kevin Yarr/CBC)

CBC News reached out to Lloyd’s Register again after receiving this information about the audit and action plan. A spokesperson for the engineering and technical services company said it would consider providing comments, but none had been received several days later. 

To this day, Lloyd’s continues to inspect Northumberland Ferries ships on behalf of Transport Canada. 

New ferry slated for 2027

CBC News asked Transport Canada for inspection documents that would outline the current condition of MV Holiday Island, in 2022, but officials said they did not have those documents.

Instead, CBC News was told to reach out to Northumberland Ferries. 

Ferry officials provided CBC News a one-page summary from MV Holiday Island’s drydocking in May 2021, including the results of more than 1,300 steel thickness measurements taken on the hull and ballast tanks. The documents show 97 per cent of those measurements met acceptable standards, while the other three per cent of readings led to repairs with additional steelwork.

Donald Cormier, general manager and vice-president of operations for Northumberland Ferries, told CBC News in written comments that MV Holiday Island is ‘safe and seaworthy.’ (CBC)

Cormier said decisions and work made during the 2016 drydocking ensured the life of MV Holiday Island would be extended at least 10 years.

Although Cormier said additional steelwork is usually done every year, he would not disclose how much that annual work is costing.

Federal Procurement and Public Services Canada officials have confirmed that design work is underway for a new Holiday Island II to serve on the P.E.I. to Nova Scotia route, but no start date for construction has been determined.

Procurement officials expect the new ferry to be delivered in 2027. 

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