Sink Coast Guard, face protest

Union warns of con­se­quences if dive res­cue team gets cut

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - VANCOUVER - David P. Ball

A union rep­re­sent­ing Coast Guard mem­bers hopes the agency bends on its de­ci­sion to end its B.C.-based dive res­cue team — re­mind­ing the Coast Guard of protests and even civil dis­obe­di­ence it faced over sim­i­lar cuts in 2012.

The de­ci­sion, an­nounced last Thurs­day, will see seven mem­bers of the 26-per­son crew at its Sea Is­land hov­er­craft base in Rich­mond laid off and the rest re­as­signed to non-div­ing roles.

But con­cerns con­tinue to sur­face about the de­ci­sion, par­tic­u­larly about the im­pact on safety once res­cuers are no longer able to en­ter sunken, cap­sized or sub­merged ves­sels and ve­hi­cles in what’s known as “pen­e­tra­tive dives.”

The cuts could save nearly $500,000 a year, said the fed­eral agency’s western as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner Roger Girouard, though he es­ti­mated it would likely be less.

That’s com­pa­ra­ble to the $700,000 that the for­mer Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment of Stephen Harper hoped to save by shut­ter­ing the Kit­si­lano Coast Guard sta­tion in Van­cou­ver — spark­ing protests and a 2015 Lib­eral prom­ise to re­verse the clo­sure.

Ax­ing a sim­i­larly costly fa­cil­ity just to the south feels like “hypocrisy,” ar­gued Dave Clark, the Pa­cific re­gion vi­cepres­i­dent of the Union of Cana­dian Trans­porta­tion Em­ploy­ees, which rep­re­sents Coast Guard mem­bers. Clark said the union and its mem­bers are plan­ning to fight the lat­est cut.

But not ev­ery­one sup­ports a ded­i­cated dive team. Metro spoke with a for­mer Coast Guard diver of 20 years who moved into other agency roles shortly af­ter the dive team first formed. Capt. Tony Tox­opeus said he wasn’t sur­prised in the slight­est about the move to dis­con­tinue the team but hoped the dive knowl­edge gained wouldn’t be en­tirely wasted when staff are re­as­signed.

“It be­came a big thorn in the Coast Guard’s side,” Tox­opeus said in a phone in­ter­view. “The hov­er­craft unit is a great op­er­a­tion … but costs a hor­ren­dous amount of money to op­er­ate, even with­out hav­ing to add on ex­tra divers.

“If they could look at me in the eye and prom­ise me that the money they’re go­ing to save on that pro­gram would be prop­erly spent on search-and-res­cue on the West Coast here, it wouldn’t be a bad de­ci­sion. But you know what? They’re go­ing to end up putting that money in the bucket some­where, and who knows where it’ll end up get­ting spent.”

Girouard said the fact it’s the only such sta­tion in the en­tire Cana­dian Coast Guard’s op­er­a­tion — with ports else­where han­dling emer­gen­cies with­out such ca­pac­ity — sin­gled it out when the fed­eral Lib­er­als called for a staffing and bud­get re­view.

“That’s ex­actly the sit­u­a­tion that Prince Ru­pert and Hal­i­fax face,” he said.

“No doubt there’s a diminu­tion of ca­pa­bil­ity, but it’s been a rare and unique ca­pa­bil­ity that’s very rarely ever been em­ployed.

“Not to sug­gest there haven’t been some saves in 20 years or so — there have and I’ll ac­knowl­edge that — but its rareness gave it some scru­tiny.”

Clark and other mem­bers warned of the safety con­se­quences of the de­ci­sion: for in­stance, in past cases in which cars fell into the ocean and needed a diver to res­cue a pas­sen­ger — or re­cover their body.

“At the end of the day, we hope no­body drives off the end of a pier,” Girouard replied, “but if a ves­sel or ve­hi­cle does end up cap­sized, re­sponse will oc­cur and the team will do its best from the sur­face side.

“Then there is some onus on some­body in­side to try to ef­fec­tively es­cape.”

They’re go­ing to end up putting that money in the bucket some­where, and who knows where it’ll end up get­ting spent. Capt. Tony Tox­opeus

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

a Cana­dian Coast Guard hov­er­craft, based out of the sea is­land sta­tion in rich­mond, trav­els in english Bay in Van­cou­ver.

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