Fin in the News "Critic warns loss of Coast Guard dive-rescue team in Richmond could cost lives"
By Matt Robinson, Vancouver Sun, May 27th, 2017
May 31st, 2017 - 6:41pm
The Canadian Coast Guard plans to deep-six the dedicated team of divers stationed at its Sea Island Base in Richmond.
The team of search and rescue divers had been charged with responding to emergencies in the waters off the Lower Mainland. They're trained to enter wrecked or sunken ships, vehicles and planes to rescue survivors or recover bodies.
But now the Coast Guard has told those professional divers they will need to stop going underwater and take on different Coast Guard jobs, at Sea Island or elsewhere.
"Those hovercraft still need to run, rescue specialists still have to be there," suggested Roger Girouard, the assistant commissioner for the Coast Guard's western region.
Roger Girouard, assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard's western region, says budget increases by the Trudeau government will, overall, increase mariner safety in B.C.
The 15-member Sea Island dive team is the only one of its kind across the country, and it was decided the program was not part of the Coast Guard's core mandate, according to a statement from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The cut will save the Coast Guard about $500,000 a year, but it will leave the region less prepared to respond to emergencies where dives are required.
Girouard said members of his staff are talking to the RCMP, Emergency Management B.C., the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Fire and Rescue about the change, and the Coast Guard will wait "to make sure that 911 knows who to call" before it cuts the team.
After that point, if there is an emergency, Coast Guard will respond and "lean on the local agencies," Girouard said.
"Understand that search and rescue is always a shared responsibility," he said.
The VPD has a marine unit that maintains security and safety on the water and responds to distress calls, said Staff Sgt. Randy Fincham, a spokesman for the department. But the department "does not have a dive team, nor are we currently looking at deploying one."
The RCMP does have divers, but they belong to an underwater recovery team that is "responsible for the recovery of human remains and evidence related to criminal investigation," said Sgt. Annie Linteau, an RCMP spokeswoman.
Fin Donnelly, the federal NDP's Fisheries and Oceans critic, said the decision "would, unfortunately, put lives at risk."
"It's not what we want, especially going into a very busy boating season," he said in an interview.
The dive team has been cut once before by a federal Liberal government, Donnelly noted in a news release.
That cut happened in 2001, just a few days before a man crashed his car into the Fraser River and died.
"You had Coast Guard officials on site, at the location, but of course they didn't have the equipment to go in and enter the vehicle and remove the occupant," Donnelly recalled. "They had to wait until the RCMP dive team was able to get on site and at that point it became a recovery.
"In a case where there's emergency response, seconds and minutes matter."
Donnelly questioned why it made sense to cut a dive team that was already established, and said he was not aware of any other public service that did what the Coast Guard's divers do.
He likened the cut to the 2013 closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station by the federal Conservative government.
But Girouard said the cut comes in the midst of "investment in the Canadian Coast Guard of a massive, unprecedented scale not seen in well over a generation."
He referred to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent financial commitment of $1.5 billion over five years for a national Oceans Protection Plan. He said the Coast Guard will get 200 more staff in B.C. alone, and the province will get four new lifeboats and new radar and radio capabilities.
Mariners across the province would be "better protected" overall as a result of the investments and changes, he said.
"I want to acknowledge my dive team. They are professionals. They are some of the best people I have in my organization and I applaud their passion, their professionalism, their devotion to safety and what they've contributed to this neighbourhood for a generation," Girouard said.
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