Stars and sharks

Fish­er­men re­call res­cue by Marine At­lantic ferry in wa­ters off Cape Bre­ton

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front page - BY ERIN POT­TIE

Three fish­er­men spent about an hour and a half hud­dled to­gether in wa­ters off Cape Bre­ton, talk­ing about the stars and wor­ry­ing about sharks.

The trio had set out Mon­day at noon from Glace Bay in a boat be­long­ing to the Way­cobah First Na­tion.

They man­aged to haul in about 3,000 pounds of red­fish be­fore the Su­lia’n caught fire and cap­sized.

The men were later res­cued from wa­ters of the Cabot Strait around mid­night by a gov­ern­ment ves­sel used to shut­tle pas­sen­gers be­tween North Syd­ney and Port aux Basques, N.L.

“The stars — you could see the stars,” said Chris­tian Phillips, a crew mem­ber from Way­cobah when asked about his time in the wa­ter.

“The light show we were talk­ing about, mak­ing lit­tle jokes. We had to keep our hu­mour.”

Su­lia’n cap­tain Blaine Hamil­ton of Annapolis Royal said the ves­sel was about 80 kilo­me­tres north­east of Glace Bay when they no­ticed an ex­haust fire in the ceil­ing of a wash­room.

A call for help was sent to the Cana­dian Coast Guard around 10 p.m.

At the same time, Marine At­lantic ferry Capt. Scott Dowd­ing was ap­prox­i­mately 22 kilo­me­tres away nav­i­gat­ing the MV Leif Eric­son to Port aux Basques from North Syd­ney.

He be­gan mak­ing his way to­ward the boat when a call came through in­struct­ing that ev­ery­thing was un­der con­trol.

“It was only a mat­ter of about 15 or 20 min­utes later — I heard the (ur­gency) in his voice, the sec­ond time, say­ing the fire had reignited and I knew then it was pretty se­ri­ous. And so, we al­tered the course even be­fore we got tasked,” said Dowd­ing.

Hamil­ton, 54, Phillips, 39, and crew mem­ber Levi Poulette, 29, of Way­cobah put on sur­vival suits and jumped away from the ves­sel.

They had al­ready placed bags con­tain­ing a few be­long­ings into a life-raft, but the de­vice later be­came tan­gled in the Su­lia’n and even­tu­ally caught fire. As they waited for help, they used flares to guide the res­cuers.

“Hop­ing that shark don’t get us,” said Phillips, a fa­ther or three, who was aware a great white shark has been nav­i­gat­ing Cape Bre­ton wa­ters.

“Be­fore I left, I hugged my fam­ily be­cause you never know, right. I called them be­fore we left and said I loved them, and I’ll see you when I get back.”

Dowd­ing said the crew mem­bers were for­tu­nate that the wa­ter was rel­a­tively calm.

Af­ter a small res­cue boat was launched, it took crew mem­bers of the Leif Eric­son about 35 min­utes to pluck the men from the wa­ter.

Phillips and Poulette say they were shiv­er­ing be­cause wa­ter had seeped in­side their suits as they shifted around dur­ing the wait.

Poulette stayed rel­a­tively quiet through­out a press con­fer­ence at the ferry ter­mi­nal in North Syd­ney on Tues­day af­ter­noon, Sept. 11.

He said it was the first time he’d ever been in­volved in such a close call.

“It’s good to be back,” Poulette said.

Once they ar­rived on land in Port aux Basques, Phillips, who is di­a­betic, was taken to hos­pi­tal for in­sulin.

The vol­un­teer fire­fighter said see­ing ferry lights shin­ing across the wa­ter brought a sense of re­lief.

“First time I had to aban­don ship,” he said. “Just try­ing to stay sane.”

Hamil­ton said he’d just hoped his sec­ond call for help had been re­ceived.

The 39-year vet­eran of the seas said it was his fourth close en­counter on the wa­ter.

“I was quite sure that I got my call out to the coast guard and ev­ery­thing. I was quite sure that help was on the way. It was a lit­tle tense, but it wasn’t too bad.”

The men are cred­ited with re­mem­ber­ing sur­vival train­ing and stay­ing to­gether in a hud­dle.

Way­cobah Chief Rod Goo­goo said last Tues­day that Su­lia’n is one of the older ves­sels in their fleet.

“All that mat­ters to us is that they’re all safe and sound,” Goo­goo said as he waited for more de­tails in the case.

All three men said they didn’t ex­pect the mis­ad­ven­ture will de­ter them from fish­ing.


Three res­cued fish­er­men, from left, Capt. Blaine Hamil­ton, Chris­tian Phillips and Levi Poulette ar­rived at the Marine At­lantic ferry ter­mi­nal in North Syd­ney car­ry­ing the suits they wore while wait­ing to be res­cued in the wa­ters off the coast of Cape Bre­ton.


The Su­lia’n fish­ing boat is owned by Way­cobah First Na­tion.

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