Coast guard de­fends scut­tling dive team

Lay­ing o and re­as­sign­ing crew may en­dan­ger lives, sources say

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - FRONT PAGE - David P. Ball

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.

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