BY HUGH ADAMI, OTTAWA CITIZEN
Published on: September 9, 2014
Clay Bingley wants his tugboat back.
The boat sits in the same placed he parked it 14 years ago, at the Mattawa Adventure Camp.
But somehow, Bingley has lost ownership of the Matabichouan. And while it looks like bureaucratic bungling, Transport Canada says Bingley’s fight to retrieve the tugboat is with Petawawa resident Kevin Watt — not the federal government department. Police are also now investigating what has happened.
Transport Canada said it was Watt who convinced its staff that he salvaged the vessel after reporting it as abandoned on private property beside the Ottawa River in Mattawa.
It turns out, the tug boat wasn’t abandoned, and though he told Transport Canada he spent $2,000 to salvage it, Watt acknowledged in an interview with the Public Citizen he neither spent the money nor recovered the tug.
In an email to the office of Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant (Nipissing-Renfrew-Pembroke), Transport Minister Lisa Raitt’s office said the Justice Department has determined the issue is now a civil matter. However, it admits Transport Canada eventually learned that “that the vessel was in fact not salvaged” by Watt, a former Canadian soldier.
A Transport Canada spokeswoman would only add that the department “is aware of the issue involving the vessel Matabitchouan. The Department has been advised that this matter is currently under police investigation, and we cannot provide further details.”
The tugboat, built in 1959 in Owen Sound by Russell Brothers Ltd., is believed to have historic value.
Watt says he first came across the boat in 2009 when he first saw it while staying at the Mattawa Adventure Camp. Watt contacted Bingley, a Pembroke resident, to see if he wanted to sell it. Bingley was willing to let it go for $15,000. Watt says he found a potential customer in Sherbrooke, but the customer subsequently backed out.
Watt and Bingley did not communicate again until this spring, after Bingley was told by Wim Smulders, owner and operator of Mattawa Adventure Camp, that Watt was claiming to have salvaged the Matabitchouan and trying to sell it to a Gatineau man. The Gatineau man says he offered $3,500 for the vessel, which he planned to refurbish.
Watt says he went to Transport Canada in the hope it could help him track down Bingley, so he could tell him he had another potential buyer.
The phone numbers he had for Bingley no longer worked, he says. Transport could not help but had Watt provide information about the vessel, he says. Watt says he did not specifically ask to be declared salvor of the vessel, but he was, and the tug was “released” to him last Jan. 30.
Bingley says Transport Canada “dropped the ball.”
A 1999 letter to Bingley from Transport indicates the department knew he bought the boat from I.C.O. Inc., a company for which he did salvage work on the Ottawa River as a commercial diver. Bingley purchased the Matabitchouan in 1992, for use by his company, C.J. Marine. He has the bill of sale from I.C.O. Cecil Sullivan, former treasurer of the defunct firm, confirmed this week that he clearly recalls the sale to Bingley.
He was advised in the 1999 letter from Transport Canada that even though he purchased the tugboat, the sale did not automatically transfer ownership from I.C.O. Bingley says he just never got around to register the vessel, which he took out of commission a year later when he left it on Smulders’ property. As a result of not filing the necessary paperwork, the vessel was removed from the Transport Canada register in 2003. Bingley could have registered ownership up until the time Watt was declared the salvor.
Watt doesn’t appear to be the owner, either, as the letter to Gallant’s office says Transport’s Vessel Registration group “has not processed any registration documents.”
Bingley and Watt have exchanged a few emails. Watt says in one email that he wants to meet. “You will bring your paperwork and I will bring mine and we will put an end to this craziness.”
Watt says he wants nothing more to do with the boat. The only reason for him to salvage the vessel, he says, is to sell it, and for awhile he thought he had found the man in Gatineau to buy it. The deal fell though when he and the man drove to Mattawa last spring and Smulders told the potential buyer that the tug belonged to Bingley. Watt does say he offered Smulders $1,000 to allow the boat to be removed from his property.