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Duddy solves mystery of sunken ship

Hulk found in Deas Slough believed to be La Belle, first used by U.S. in Second World War and later as a tug
The remains of the La Belle tug, which was first used as a U.S. Navy vessel in the Second World War, now rest in Deas Slough.

It might not have been exactly what he was looking for but a Lower Mainland man appears to have discovered a historical treasure in Deas Slough.

White Rock's George Duddy is a former civil engineer who has been spending his retirement years researching the history of old war ships. After the Second World War, many navy vessels were purchased and converted into tug boats. He was on the hunt for the remains of the Audrey B, which came to her demise in the Fraser River. He thought he was onto something when we found another sunken ship, which, during low tide, can be seen from the shore in Deas Slough.

He determined through measurements that it wasn't the remains of the Audrey B but he was determined to find out the story behind the mystery vessel.

"I was very disappointed," he said. "But I said, 'I'd better find out what this old hulk is.'" And so a new research project began.

"After the war, a lot of the tug boat companies in Vancouver bought war service vessels," he said.

Vancouver Tug Boat was one of those companies, purchasing the USS APc-15, which was later renamed La Belle, and seven other vessels. The ships were repurposed into tugs, fish packers and herring seiners.

"I think the hulk out there is the last one," Duddy said.

It's the La Belle that now sits in Deas Slough.

"Her hulk is all that remains of this class of vessel in Canada," Duddy said. "In the U.S. Navy, these vessels served mostly in the Pacific as coastal transport vessels."

The USS APc-15 earned one battle star for its Second World War service.

"It is noted that when this class was created, it incorporated a number of vessels of coastal minesweeper class AMc of similar design... These vessels, at the time, were surplus to the mine sweeper requirements."

The vessel was first registered for post-war service under the name Gulf Trader in 1947. A year later she was renamed La Belle, which stuck until 1962 when the ship was sold to Capital Iron and Metals in Victoria.

After the sale, La Belle and four other tugs had their engines removed and the hulls were sold as liveaboards or for conversion to fish boats.

In 1963, Duddy said, La Belle was re-registered as an unpowered sailing vessel under the name Black Trader.

Over the years, the vessel had a few owners before sinking in the slough after capsizing, Duddy said.

He expressed concern over the future of the historical hulk. It rests just 500 metres east of a development that includes 11 float homes and 11 upland single-family homes. The development was granted conditional approval by Delta in September, but still needs to be approved by Port Metro Vancouver.

Duddy said he would like to see the sunken ship preserved in some way.