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Canada’s once proud, listing “Love Boat” to finally be removed

PortandTerminal.com, October 13, 2020

BRIDGEWATER, NOVA SCOTIA – For the past 20 years, the HMCS Cormorant has sat abandoned at a small port in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, listing sadly to her starboard side as shown in the photo above. Last week the Canadian government announced that an end for the once-proud vessel is in sight.

Following a competitive bidding process, a contract was awarded to RJ MacIsaac Construction Ltd. of Antigonish, Nova Scotia for the dismantling and removal of the Cormorant from the Port of Bridgewater. History is in their hands.

“Our ports are not dumping grounds – they are hubs for community and industry. With the contract awarded, the safe and responsible removal of the Cormorant and the threat of pollution it poses is finally within our sight.” — The Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Her sad demise

The former HMCS Cormorant shown listing badly in Bridgewater (2015)
The former HMCS Cormorant shown listing badly in Bridgewater (2015). (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Initially constructed as the trawler Aspa Quarto in 1965, the ship was acquired by the Canadian Forces in 1975, converted to a diving support vessel and renamed the Cormorant

The Cormorant was decommissioned on 2 July 1997 and sold to American owners who planned to use her for diving operations. After undergoing more conversions to an offshore support vessel in 1998, the ship was docked in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia in 2000 and has remained there since abandoned.

In March 2015, the ship developed a severe list and into the LaHave River due to the amount of ice on the deck. After the Canadian Coast Guard stepped in and took charge, the ship was refloated with the list reduced to 8 degrees. And until last week’s announcement of her removal that has been the story up until now.

The Cormorant has a proud history that needs to be known before she’s broken up and that’s where PortandTerminal.com comes in.

SS Edmund Fitzgerald bell recovery

The Cormorant with one of her two submersibles shown off her stern
The Cormorant with one of her two submersibles shown off her stern

As part of her proud history, the Cormorant was an integral part of the November 1994 expedition to recover the ship’s bell from the wreck of SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior.

The bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald was recovered thanks to the help of the Cormorant. The original bell (shown here) was replaced on the wreck with an exact replica engraved with each of the 29 victims’ names.

With the help of the Cormorant, the ship’s bell was transported aboard her to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where it was respectfully displayed to the public.

On Friday, July 7, the bell was formally presented to the family members by Diane Cunningham, Ontario Minister of Inter-Governmental Affairs. In a ceremony titled “Call to the Last Watch” the bell was then tolled 30 times, 29 for each man who lost his life on the Fitzgerald, with the final toll for all sailors who have died on the Great Lakes.

“Does anyone know where the love of god goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” -Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (1976)

“The Love Boat” ahead of the curve

As a diving support ship, Cormorant had facilities to support divers and carried two small, deep-diving submersibles.

One of Cormorant's two cutting-edge submersibles
One of Cormorant’s two cutting-edge submersibles

Both submersibles were cutting edge for their time. One was a six-person minisubmarine that could handle depths of up to 615 m (2,017 ft) and could let divers in and out via an airlock. The other submersible was a “robot” minisub that could dive to 370 m (1,214 ft).

The Cormorant was ahead of the curve in other ways too — she was the first Canadian naval vessel to have a mixed crew of men and women. In 1980, the first mixed-gender crew trial took place aboard Cormorant in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. The trial lasted until 1984.

The experiment was groundbreaking and helped pave the path for a more inclusive naval force in Canada.

“Because of the Cormorant new rules concerning the fitness of pregnant women for sea duty had to be established. It was decided that they must be transferred to shore duties once pregnancy is diagnosed.” — Lieutenant-Commander William Bateman, MD writing for Military Medicine

Due to its mixed crew, Cormorant was sometimes jokingly called the “Love Boat” (probably by jealous sailors on men only vessels).

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