Coast guard defends scuttling dive team
Laying o and reassigning crew may endanger lives, sources say
The Canadian Coast Guard is defending its decision to scuttle its only dive rescue team last Thursday — laying off seven members of the 26-person crew at its Sea Island, Richmond hovercraft base and reassigning the rest.
A spokesperson told Metro that Vancouverites are safer at sea than they were two years ago thanks to nearly $3 billion in boosted Coast Guard funding.
“Funding is not being cut, but rather re-directed,” insisted spokesperson Michelle Imbeau in an email.
That’s little comfort to several current and retired members of the Coast Guard, who warned that ending the 20-year-old dive operations will almost certainly put mariners’ lives at risk.
No one else in the region can perform the types of dangerous rescues the “highly skilled, highly trained” divers could perform, according to retired Kitsilano Coast Guard Station officer-incharge Fred Moxey.
The federal Liberals were applauded for their election promise to reopen the Kitsilano station after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuttered it. His successor, Justin Trudeau, reopened it in 2015.
But his government’s move to axe the nearby dive team has angered those who once lauded Trudeau’s pledge. The diving operations included everything from capsized recreational and fishing boats to overturned float planes, and passengers trapped inside vehicles that plunged into the water.
“The hypocrisy that the Liberal government is doing this after they were extremely vocal about the Tories’ cuts,” said Dave Clark, Western vice-president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, which represents some Coast Guard members. “People have died when they did this before. This time they won’t be able to keep this under a rug when someone dies.”
Moxey said by saving lives, even if only a few, the dive team served its purpose as the only agency doing underwater rescues in the region.
“If this happens, and they shut down the base, it’s really limiting their effectiveness in saving people’s lives,” he said.
Not so, countered the Coast Guard. Imbeau said the decision to “discontinue” the diving capability — the only one of its kind in all of Canada — arose from the federal Liberal government’s 2016 budget, which asked the Coast Guard to conduct “a thorough review of its programs and services.”
It’s not the first time the dive team came under budgetary threat. It was initially axed in the early 2000s, but after several fatal incidents was reopened and expanded.