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Tamil migrant ship MV Ocean Lady for sale

The MV Ocean Lady is escorted to Ogden Point, British Columbia on October 17, 2009.

Cpl Pier-Adam Turcotte/ The Globe and Mail/Cpl Pier-Adam Turcotte/ The Globe and Mail

She's got a shady past, a pile of debt and her share of wear-and-tear.

But the MV Ocean Lady can be yours – for a price.

The rusty cargo ship that brought more than six dozen Tamil migrants to Canada two years ago is up for sale.

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The sketchy vessel's arrival in waters off Vancouver Island triggered a national debate and prompted federal legislation – still before Parliament – to deter human smugglers.

All passengers and crew made refugee-protection claims. The ship, meanwhile, was docked at a federal facility at Annacis Island on the south arm of the Fraser River.

Government officials began trying to identify the mysterious ship's owners. A search of Lloyd's Ship Registry turned up nothing under the name MV Ocean Lady. But documents on board the vessel revealed the ship's actual name, the MV Princess Easwary, Federal Court records say.

Subsequent searches led officials to believe the ship might be owned by the firm London Shipping Agents, or by a Seychelles company named Ray Ocean Transport Corp., the Federal Court records note. In turn, Ray Ocean Transport was represented by Philippines firm Sunship Maritime Services.

In September of last year, the border services agency advised London Shipping Agents and Sunship Maritime Services in writing that they were in violation of federal immigration law for bringing undocumented people to Canada.

The border agency demanded a cash security deposit of $5-million, $243,200 in administration fees ($3,200 for each of the 76 migrants), and reimbursement of $2.24-million spent on storage, care and preservation of the vessel.

London Shipping Agents told the border agency the company did not own the ship, forwarding documents to support the company's claim that it was only contracted to represent the vessel during its arrival in the Philippines in 2007, federal briefing notes say.

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Sunship Maritime Services never replied to the Canadian letter.

As of last November, the government was still trying to determine the boat's ownership.

Last spring Canadian officials asked the Federal Court for permission to sell the Ocean Lady.

"The main reason to sell the ship is that the owner abandoned it and shows no intention of regaining possession or control of it," says a federal submission to the court.

The court agreed to the sale, allowing the government to appoint Jonesea Shipping Consultants as broker of the transaction. Any prospective buyer will need to be approved by the court.

There is no asking price for the 56-metre ship. But court documents indicate it was recently valued at between $500,000 and $800,000 – a fraction of what the Canadian government has spent on upkeep since its arrival.

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The boat, though dilapidated-looking, is said to have a full kitchen and gym.

Jonesea representative Bernie Jones declined to be interviewed about the search for a buyer.

"I've been asked to sell it, that's all you really need to know," Mr. Jones said before hanging up.

Proceeds from a sale would help defray the costs of maintaining the ship, said Faith St. John, a border services agency spokeswoman.

The federal briefing notes, prepared for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, make it clear the seizure and sale are part of the government's efforts to discourage additional ships full of migrants – who usually thousands of dollars each for passage to Canada.

Critics of the government's hard line say such desperate measures are often the only means of seeking asylum for those fleeing war or oppression.

A second ship, the MV Sun Sea – carrying almost 500 Tamils – turned up off the B.C. coast in August last year.

St. John said the Sun Sea is not on the sales block, adding the border services agency "is still weighing the available options."

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