New help needed over ocean

Se­nate re­port rec­om­mends civil­ian he­li­copter op­er­a­tor pro­vide aero­nau­ti­cal SAR cov­er­age

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial - BY BARB SWEET ST. JOHN’S, N.L. bar­bara.sweet@thetele­ Twit­ter: @bsweet­tweets

The fact that the num­ber of search and res­cue in­ci­dents in New­found­land and Labrador is twice as high as the na­tional av­er­age, with most oc­cur­ring at sea, is con­cern­ing enough to rec­om­mend a new ap­proach, a Se­nate com­mit­tee re­port re­leased Thurs­day con­cluded.

On av­er­age, 600 lives are saved, while 18 oth­ers are lost, ev­ery year off the coast of New­found­land and Labrador, which has the long­est coast­line in Canada — 28,000 kilo­me­tres.

Heavy ice, ice­bergs, freez­ing spray, storms and fog add dan­ger to the sit­u­a­tion.

The re­port, When Ev­ery Minute Counts: Mar­itime Search and Res­cue, notes across the coun­try search and res­cue (SAR) mis­sions save 15 lives daily, and the com­mer­cial fish­ing in­dus­try has the high­est fa­tal­ity rate among all em­ploy­ment sec­tors in Canada — an av­er­age of one death ev­ery month.

The com­mit­tee rec­om­mended that Fish­eries and Oceans Canada en­sure its reg­u­la­tions and prac­tices give pri­or­ity to fish har­vesters’ safety.

The Se­nate com­mit­tee also wants Trans­port Canada to amend its reg­u­la­tions to ex­tend the manda­tory use of emer­gency po­si­tion-in­di­cat­ing ra­dio bea­cons (or EPIRBs) to ves­sels in all fish­ing fleets. A time­line of two years should be given to the fish­ing in­dus­try to achieve manda­tory EPIRB car­riage, the re­port stated.

The Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Fish­eries and Oceans study of mar­itime search and res­cue op­er­a­tions led its mem­bers to fact-find­ing mis­sions on the West Coast, East Coast and in the North, work that be­gan in 2016 and in­cluded pub­lic hear­ings in St. John’s, Ot­tawa and Hal­i­fax.

New­found­land and Labrador Sen­a­tor Fabian Man­ning, the com­mit­tee chair­man, was un­avail­able for com­ment Thurs­day, but planned to ad­dress lo­cal me­dia Fri­day.

In its re­port, the com­mit­tee rec­om­mends that, as a pi­lot project, the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence au­tho­rize a civil­ian he­li­copter op­er­a­tor to pro­vide aero­nau­ti­cal search and res­cue cov­er­age in New­found­land and Labrador and the Cana­dian Arc­tic.

“Com­mit­tee mem­bers were also told that there is a shift in the way the fish­eries are con­ducted in (New­found­land and Labrador), with a higher num­ber of ves­sels be­ing on the wa­ter more fre­quently, longer fish­ing sea­sons, and fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties fur­ther from the shore,” the re­port states.

“There is also an in­crease in off­shore oil and gas de­vel­op­ment, more recre­ational boat­ing and grow­ing large-pas­sen­ger ves­sel ac­tiv­ity. Given the lack of a (Cana­dian Air Force)

CAF fixed-wing SAR air­craft in the province, hav­ing a pri­vate aero­nau­ti­cal SAR as­set staged at prox­im­ity of these marine ac­tiv­i­ties could re­duce SAR re­sponse times and im­prove out­comes.”

The sen­a­tors ruled out pri­va­ti­za­tion of aero­nau­ti­cal SAR — like in the United King­dom, Ire­land and Aus­tralia — or another large gov­ern­ment cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture project for ad­di­tional SAR air­craft, or to re­build the older ones as the right so­lu­tion to ad­dress Canada’s unique sit­u­a­tion.

“How­ever, the com­mit­tee be­lieves that al­ter­na­tive ser­vice de­liv­ery — in the form of pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships that lever­age the best of both pub­lic and pri­vate ca­pa­bil­i­ties/ re­sources — could of­fer, in the short- and medium-terms, an in­no­va­tive and cost-ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion to sup­ple­ment SAR re­sources in re­gions with lit­tle or in­suf­fi­cient cov­er­age,” the re­port said.

Also, the com­mit­tee rec­om­mends that the Cana­dian Coast Guard be es­tab­lished as a sep­a­rate statu­tory agency re­port­ing to the min­is­ter of trans­port, with Trans­port Canada trans­fer­ring the re­spon­si­bil­ity of search and res­cue pre­ven­tion and recre­ational boat­ing safety back to the Cana­dian Coast Guard along with the as­so­ci­ated fund­ing.

It noted the con­fu­sion that can oc­cur with var­i­ous de­part­ments and lev­els of gov­ern­ment in­volved in search and res­cue juris­dic­tion, as well as sup­port from vol­un­teers and the pri­vate sec­tor.

“Dur­ing the study, the com­mit­tee learned that, de­spite the di­vided re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, the lines be­tween ground, mar­itime and aero­nau­ti­cal SAR are of­ten blurred,” the re­port notes.

“For ex­am­ple, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can as­sist in ground SAR ef­forts, med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions and other hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ci­dents, if asked to do so by the re­spon­si­ble pro­vin­cial/ter­ri­to­rial or mu­nic­i­pal author­ity. Sim­i­larly, re­sponse to mar­itime in­ci­dents may re­quire aero­nau­ti­cal SAR as­sets, and vice versa. More­over, when an in­ci­dent oc­curs on sea ice, there may be con­fu­sion as to whether the in­ci­dent re­quires a land SAR or mar­itime SAR re­sponse. The com­mit­tee heard that con­fu­sion has, in the past, con­trib­uted to de­lays in res­cue. As a re­sult, it is im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge that the risk for se­ri­ous in­jury and death in­creases as SAR re­sponse time in­creases.”

New­found­land and Labrador’s Mar­itime Res­cue SubCen­tre was closed for a time, but re­opened in St. John’s. It is part of the wider Hal­i­fax search and res­cue re­gion that in­cludes all four prov­inces, and the re­port said there are por­tions of the Hal­i­fax re­gion with in­ad­e­quate SAR cov­er­age — specif­i­cally the waters off New­found­land and Labrador.

Re­sponse times and re­li­a­bil­ity came up as a ma­jor con­cern.

In the Hal­i­fax search and res­cue re­gion 1,741 Mar­itime search and res­cue mis­sions were led in 2017.

A dis­tress in­ci­dent at sea can oc­cur sud­denly and with­out warn­ing, as a re­sult of in­jury, me­chan­i­cal fail­ure, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, lack of safety equip­ment or hu­man er­ror, the Se­nate com­mit­tee noted.

Since the com­mit­tee launched its study, be­sides the re­open­ing of the St. John’s subcen­tre, New­found­land and Labrador saw the con­struc­tion of two new SAR lifeboat sta­tions in Twill­ingate and Bay de Verde, and the re­fur­bish­ment of the lifeboat sta­tion in St. An­thony. The 9 Wing Gan­der, which op­er­ates three Co­morant he­li­copters, is of­ten the first re­spon­der to mar­itime SAR in­ci­dents in New­found­land and Labrador. The Co­morants re­quire lengthy main­te­nance, which re­duce their avail­abil­ity, the com­mit­tee noted.

A num­ber of wit­nesses from New­found­land and Labrador rec­om­mended that one of the coun­try’s new fixed-wing air­craft be staged in Gan­der to help im­prove the SAR re­sponse to the high num­ber of mar­itime in­ci­dents in the province.

Re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing per­son­nel has come up as an is­sue across the coun­try — its ex­pected 25 per cent of marine per­son­nel across the coun­try who op­er­ate Coast Guard ves­sels will re­tire over the next five years, and the com­mit­tee said the loom­ing hu­man re­sources short­age must be ad­dressed im­me­di­ately.

“A gov­ern­ment re­port even sug­gested that the CCG cur­rently lacks ad­e­quate staff to re­spond ‘in any part’ of its ar­eas of re­spon­si­bil­ity ‘at any time,’ in­clud­ing mar­itime SAR,” the re­port states.

Low morale, stress and burnout were com­plaints as the sen­a­tors toured the coun­try. To aug­ment the Coast Guard col­lege in Syd­ney, N.S., the com­mit­tee has rec­om­mended a ex­pan­sion of train­ing pro­grams in West­ern Canada.

As for vol­un­teers who of­ten aid search and res­cue mis­sions with their own ves­sels, the need for bet­ter equip­ment and fund­ing was stressed.

Cana­dian Coast Guard Aux­il­iary–NL mem­bers told the com­mit­tee that they do not have suf­fi­cient fund­ing to sup­ply their ves­sels with SAR equip­ment, and listed equip­ment they should have on board — de-wa­ter­ing diesel pump, re­board­ing de­vice (Ja­cob’s lad­der), self-fo­cus­ing wa­ter­proof binoc­u­lars, SAR transpon­der, au­to­mated ex­ter­nal de­fib­ril­la­tor, first aid kit, tow rope and buoy­ant res­cue bag.

The Se­nate com­mit­tee is­sued a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions aimed at help­ing the fish­ing in­dus­try im­prove safety at sea.

“The re­cur­ring find­ing of an av­er­age of 12 deaths per year in the com­mer­cial fish­ing in­dus­try is of great con­cern to the com­mit­tee,” the re­port said. “The per­sis­tence of this num­ber in­di­cates that some­thing must change. Along with wit­nesses, mem­bers of the com­mit­tee be­lieve that real and last­ing im­prove­ments in fish­ing safety can be re­al­ized through changes to fish­ing ves­sel reg­u­la­tions, com­mer­cial fish­eries man­age­ment and pre­ven­tion.”


With col­leagues along for the ride, New­found­land and Labrador Sen­a­tor Fabian Man­ning (at wheel) drives a search and res­cue Zo­diac dur­ing the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Fish­eries and Oceans fact-find­ing study of search and res­cue op­er­a­tions across the coun­try. At left is an uniden­ti­fied search and res­cue per­son­nel, while be­hind Man­ning is re­tired Sen­a­tor El­iz­a­beth Hub­ley and the late Sen­a­tor To­bias C. En­verga Jr. (right).

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