Kitsilano Coast Guard Station Closure Update

One of JSCA’s longtime members wrote to Conservative MP Randy Kamp, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, voicing his concerns regarding the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station this coming spring, and shared with us the following reply:

Dear Dennis,

Thank you for your correspondence about search and rescue services in the Vancouver area. I support the reorganization of Search and Rescue resources, though I think there’s been some misunderstanding about the proposed closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. Please allow me to provide some clarification in this longer than usual letter. Helpful information can also be found on this website: www.searchandrescuebc.ca.

Let me begin by describing how marine search and rescue services are provided in Canada. The Canadian Coast Guard’s mandate is to ensure that there’s search and rescue coverage in areas of federal responsibility but it does so within a system or network of available resources. This means there are numerous players that can be called up to respond to a mariner in distress. These resources include Coast Guard’s lifeboats moored at Coast Guard stations such as Kitsilano, inshore rescue boats, large Coast Guard vessels (in the offshore), Canadian Navy vessels and Coast Guard auxiliary units (which receive some federal funding). In some areas local emergency responders, such as police and fire departments, are key parts of the system because of their capacity to play a role on the water. In addition, by law, any vessel close enough to provide assistance can be called upon to respond. These are called ‘vessels of opportunity’. Every port or harbour in Canada is served by a system of search and rescue resources but you’ll find that the mix differs significantly across the country.

The current system of resources in the Greater Vancouver area is comprised of the following. Obviously there’s the Kitsilano life boat station (but it’s worth noting that it’s the only port in Canada with a Coast guard station within the harbour). Greater Vancouver also has the hovercraft station at Sea Island, only 17 nautical miles away from Kitsilano. Vancouver has five Coast Guard Auxiliary stations (recently renamed the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue) that are well equipped through federal contributions and staffed by well-trained volunteers. Many of them are professional fishermen and other experienced boaters who share a common goal to save lives. There are also National Defence assets that are occasionally called upon as well as police and fire department vessels, Port Metro Vancouver vessels and vessels of opportunity.

I think the key point that shouldn’t be missed is that we’re not proposing to take the current search and rescue system of resources, remove Kitsilano from it, and expect to provide the same level of service. If that’s your understanding, then I can see why you would be concerned. But that’s not what we’re proposing. What we’re proposing is a new system of resources that will have some additions and enhancements.

The cornerstone of the new system will be the Sea Island station with its two hovercrafts. With their large, stable platform that offers high speeds and the ability to be underway in 3 to 5 minutes, they’ve proven their search and rescue capabilities. With the addition of a new state-of-the-art hovercraft in 2013, there’s no doubt that Sea Island will have the capacity to take on additional search and rescue taskings in the Greater Vancouver area. It’s worth noting that at less than 17 nautical miles from English Bay, it’s still closer than any other Coast Guard station to a major Canadian port. For example, in Victoria, Halifax and Montreal, search and rescue services are provided by a combination of inshore rescue boats, Coast Guard auxiliary units and other vessels, but with no lifeboat stations.

We’ve also committed to the addition of an Inshore Rescue Boat station strategically located in Vancouver Harbour, and operating during the peak months from May to September. We have 24 of these stations across the country, three of those in B.C., and with high-performance vessels and fast response times they’re the primary responders in many areas. It’s clear that an Inshore Rescue Boat station can make a significant contribution to the search and rescue workload in Greater Vancouver.

As I mentioned above, there are five 24-hours 7 day a week auxiliary stations serving the Greater Vancouver area; two of which (Howe Sound and Indian Arm) are newly equipped with 37-ft. search and rescue vessels capable of withstanding 50 knot winds, 5 metre seas and are roll-over tested. The Delta and Crescent Beach auxiliary station will be putting new vessels into service this fall and the Richmond station is equipped with three vessels, including a new 30-ft. cabin vessel. These stations are already well-equipped and their volunteers well-trained but we will be working to strengthen our partnership with the Auxiliary and discussing ways in which we can augment their resources as they continue to play an important role. In fact, the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (formerly the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary Pacific) will be receiving an additional $100,000 annually to enhance their capacity which could involve moving one of their stations closer to English Bay.

Perhaps the most important question is whether the new mix of resources, without Kitsilano as part of it, will be able to provide high-quality search and rescue service. Most calls from mariners who need assistance go to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria (staffed jointly with Department of National Defence personnel) or to one of the Marine Communication and Traffic Centres, where a search and rescue coordinator gathers the necessary information and then tasks the most appropriate vessel within the system of available resources to respond. You might be interested in knowing that by mid-2012, 135 marine search and rescue calls had come in to the Coordination Centre (that includes both ‘distress’ and ‘non-distress’ calls). Only 45% of those (61) were tasked to Kitsilano, and only 13 of those were distress calls. All of the others were assigned to one of the other available resources. By comparison, the four-year average for Kitsilano is 217 calls with 52 being distress calls. Coast Guard officials have done extensive analysis of Kitsilano’s historical workload, including the location and seriousness of the incidents, and are confident that the reshaped search and rescue system in place next year, working collectively, will maintain the high level of service currently provided.

Thank you again for your interest in this important matter. I hope this has helped to clarify the issue for you.

Regards,

Randy

Randy Kamp, M.P.
Pitt Meadows — Maple Ridge — Mission
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I have sent the following letter to Mr. Kamp and all of his British Columbia colleagues:

Dear Mr Kamp:

One of your constituents forwarded a copy of your reply email (attached) to his concerns which shows that your support of the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station is based upon some misunderstanding and unqualified advice.

Your email begins by describing how marine search and rescue services are provided in Canada. What it fails to comprehend is that the Kitsilano CCG Station has been the anchor of the marine search and rescue network in the Vancouver area for the past 50 years. In this time they have saved many lives. Prior to that there was an RCAF marine rescue station at this location. Preceding this, the RCAF marine rescue station was located a few kilometres west on Jericho Beach in the 1930’s & 40’s. Prior to this, there was a non-RCAF marine rescue station at Jericho going back to the early 1900’s. There has been a full time marine lifesaving station located in Vancouver for more than 100 years-going back to the days of Titanic.

As the General Manager of the Jericho Sailing Centre, Canada’s largest ocean recreation facility, I have managed and trained the Jericho Rescue Team, part of the marine rescue system you describe, for the past 25 years. In that time, we have logged close to 5,000 people rescued from local waters.

The key point that you are missing is that you are removing the busiest Coast Guard Station in Canada from Vancouver’s current system of resources and not providing anything that comes even close to adequate replacement. To your points:

  • The “new” hovercraft at Sea Island is a replacement for an existing one, not an additional resource.
  • Hovercraft located at Sea Island do not have all weather capabilities and may not be able to reach Vancouver Harbour at times when they are needed most.
  • In favourable conditions, the response by Sea Island hovercraft will be an additional 30 minutes more than the response from Kitsilano, which can easily be the difference between life and death in these waters.
  • The Sea Island hovercraft station is the second busiest Coast Guard station in the country and their calls frequently take them more than 30 minutes away from Vancouver Harbour.
  • Covering the workload of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station will also increase their response time to distress calls within their current area of operation.
  • Coast Guard Auxiliary Stations have been a part of Vancouver’s marine rescue system for the past 40 years; they are not an additional resource.
  • The additional funding for Coast Guard Auxiliary will help them keep pace with expanding marine use in the area, but that shouldn’t be confused with enabling them to replace the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station. Three of the stations are too far away to be of much use and $100K split 5 ways is only $20,000 – that’ll buy 1 outboard motor.
  • The claim that the Coast Guard Auxiliary is “highly trained” is highly debateable; however there is no question that they cannot consistently deliver the same level of lifesaving capability to the scene of marine incidents as the professional crews of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station.
  • National Defence assets, police and fire department vessels, Port Metro Vancouver vessels and vessels of opportunity (including Jericho Rescue) have all been part of the local marine rescue system for a long time. They are not additional assets.
  • Comparisons with other Canadian ports are apples to oranges: Vancouver is the largest port in terms of human transits, vessel traffic, area and commence ($75 Billion annually and growing). Comparing the ocean off Vancouver to the river in Montreal is naive and meaningless. The Port of Vancouver is larger than the Ports of Halifax, Montreal and Victoria combined.

The ONLY ACTUAL additional asset proposed to REPLACE the busiest Coast Guard Station in Canada is a seasonal, part time Inshore Rescue Boat with an inferior crew complement- a junior Coast Guard member plus summer students with 2 months training. While this may work well on the river in Montreal, or in much smaller ports with less frequent year round traffic, it falls far short of the proven need in this area and is an easily predictable formula for disaster.

The proposed Inshore Rescue Boat will operate “during the peak months from May to September”. Kitsilano Coast Guard Station SAR statistics provided by CCG management to myself and other “rescue partners” in July clearly show that the majority (66%) of serious rescues (M1 & M2 classifications) were conducted outside of the IRB season. How could CCG management miss such an obvious fact?  This is a fatal flaw. Of the serious rescues that occurred within the IRB season, we still haven’t been told how many occurred outside of their “on station” operating hours.

Suggesting the addition of the seasonal, part time, inferior crewed, IRB is an adequate replacement for the subtraction of a 24/7/365 professionally crewed Coast Guard Station equipped with an all weather cutter and a superior RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) is sheer nonsense.

According to everyone with experience in Vancouver’s Marine Safety Network, we cannot hope to provide the same level of service as claimed by CCG management.  Maritime Coordinators of Victoria’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, Vancouver Marine Police & Fire, volunteer rescue resources, the Lower Mainland CCG Advisory Committee, BC Ambulance Services, all agree – closing the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station will cost lives.

Your reply email includes the following quote: “…by mid-2012, 135 marine search and rescue calls had come in to the Coordination Centre (that includes both ‘distress’ and ‘non-distress’ calls). Only 45% of those (61) were tasked to Kitsilano, and only 13 of those were distress calls. All of the others were assigned to one of the other available resources. By comparison, the four-year average for Kitsilano is 217 calls with 52 being distress calls. ”

It is disconcerting to see how lightly you regard human lives in distress on the water. When you say “…only 13 of those were distress calls.”; how many POB (Persons On Board) were there?  Would losing 13 lives to save $900K be OK with you? If the average POB was 3 (it is rarely 1); is losing 39 people acceptable? What low monetary value are you and Coast Guard management placing on the lives of Canadian citizens and our visitors?

You also claim that: “Coast Guard officials have done extensive analysis of Kitsilano’s historical workload, including the location and seriousness of the incidents, and are confident that the reshaped search and rescue system in place next year, working collectively, will maintain the high level of service currently provided.”

These “confident” Coast Guard officials have next to no search and rescue experience and were negligent in not consulting with the CCG’s foremost experts in the area, the Maritime Coordinators of the Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, who have a combined 100 years of direct CCG Search and Rescue experience in this area. The Maritime Coordinators of Victoria JRCC have emphatically expressed, in writing, the shortcomings of the proposed closure and stated that it will endanger the lives of mariners. The confidence of the public, and everyone else in the marine safety network, is with the SAR expert experience.

Please make public this “extensive analysis” including a Risk Assessment Analysis and any qualified rationale documentation that supports the closing of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station. The “extensive analysis” that CCG Management presented to “Rescue Partners” included only 2 years of monthly statistics which plainly show that replacing Kitsilano Station with an IRB will endanger the lives of mariners.

When the proposed new marine rescue system fails, and people perish, there will be an inquiry. This “extensive analysis” will come under the glaring light of careful scrutiny. The lack of a Risk Assessment Analysis, rationale documentation, and expert opinion supporting the closure will be damning. The overwhelming testimony of experts will reveal that this was a careless, ill advised and unqualified decision with easily predicable and preventable results.

There are twenty million human transits annually within the 30 minute response radius of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station which you are closing to save less than a nickel a head. Our safety is worth more than a nickel a head. When the first “nickleheads” perish as a result of the closure, your government will be held accountable for this Titanic mistake. I urge you, on behalf of all who transit this area to reverse this decision before lives are lost.

Sincerely,

Mike Cotter, General Manager
Jericho Sailing Centre Association

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