The navy’s great barrier grief

A floating security fence to protect warships in Halifax Harbour has fallen victim to a more modest assault: mussels
Kristy Hutter
The navy's great barrier grief
Andrew Vaughan/CP

A floating security fence built in 2007 to prevent terrorists from attacking warships in Halifax Harbour has fallen victim to a more modest assault: mussels. The defensive barrier, designed by Ohio-based Worthington Products, is meant to protect Canadian and visiting naval ships from foreign threats, such as small vessels carrying explosives. But now the fence has been temporarily dismantled after throngs of mussels and kelp latched onto the submerged part of the fence, weighing it down.

The need for harbour security became evident after al-Qaeda carried out a suicide attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, piloting a small boat filled with explosives into the ship’s side while it was docked at a refuelling station in Aden, Yemen. Seventeen American soldiers were killed and 40 were injured.

This isn’t the first time Mother Nature has wreaked havoc on the barrier, however. In 2008, just three months after the 1.6-km fence was installed by Dartmouth-based Waterworks Construction, it had to be removed and repaired when it was discovered that strong currents were causing the metal links that hold it together to fracture. Critics have slammed the design of the fence, saying it should have been engineered to withstand the rough waters of the harbour. Dennis Smith, CEO of New Jersey-based WhisprWave, a rival company that builds floating barriers, told the media the barrier was under-engineered. “That structure was not designed for rough water.”

But the Royal Canadian Navy, which is in charge of operating and maintaining the fence, insists the removal of sea growth is just part of routine upkeep. After the marine life is removed from the booms, they will be reinstalled, although the Department of National Defence was unable to confirm when that would be.