CCG Rescue Dive Team back on duty

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Terry Beech announced yesterday in Ottawa that the government of Canada was reversing the decision to cancel the Canadian Coast Guard's dive rescue program on Canada's West Coast.

The program is unique – found nowhere else in Canada. The rationale for having this  robust underwater rescue capability has been highlighted in my earlier FrontLine blog post and another by Blair Gilmore.

The shallow waters around Vancouver international airport impede a surface vessel recovery capability because of the mud flats in around Sea Island at the mouth of the Fraser River. As we are reminded, by MH 370 and Captain Scully's glider landing on the Hudson River in New York harbor, aviation incidents in the 21st century can and will continue to happen. We must be ready.

It is good to see that our parliamentarians and the government of Canada has taken steps to listen to first responders and the Marine SAR community. Effective leadership sometimes requires taking steps to review decisions to ensure the best possible outcomes are achieved, and this was one of those times.

Canada needs to address search and rescue in a broad context. We're going to see more of this in the coming years as increased Marine traffic occurs in Canadian waters and aviation increases over our Northern and Arctic region where there are sparse resources.

The National SAR Secretariat has been strangely silent on this issue, but we need to have a national discussion on the subject of search and rescue. The consequences of failure cannot be accepted. The decision of the Canadian Coast Guard to cancel this rescue capability should have entailed more scrutiny and included discussion amongst all SAR partners, from volunteers to regional and provincial responders to federal decision-makers such as DND.

Recently, in the North Atlantic, we saw the real-time incident of five sailing vessels floundering in mid ocean during a race. The SAR professionals in Halifax Search and Rescue Region (SRR), ably led by Rear Admiral John Newton, showed the world what Canada's SAR professionals are capable of. It was no cakewalk punching out 1500 nautical miles to save these yacht racers in mid ocean. Our SAR professionals, civilian, volunteer and military, are truly world-class and the envy of many countries. We need to apply that same thinking and professionalism to how we deliver search and rescue in ocean nation.

Let's use this decision by the Trudeau Government to move forward with a truth to power discussion on this important subject, and marine response generally. The end result is "so others may live."

– As a practitioner, policy consultant and SAR historian, Joe Spears has a long-standing interest in search and rescue.

On June 16th, a Coast Guard spokesperson sent the following explanation by email:

Further to your query, a program integrity exercise resulted in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Canadian Coast Guard receiving $1.4 billion in new funding for the provision of important services to Canadians.

This is in addition to the $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, under which the Coast Guard is making significant investments to increase marine safety and protect marine environments.

Under the program integrity exercise, two Coast Guard programs were identified for possible review. However, we can now confirm that all DFO and Coast Guard services will be maintained.

The Coast Guard dive program will remain at the Sea Island base.

The safety of mariners and the protection of the marine environment are the top priorities of the Canadian Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is always seeking to improve services to Canadians and works closely with local communities and Indigenous groups to ensure that resources are utilized where they can best have a positive impact on mariners and communities.

Over the next few years, search and rescue capacity will be increased, and DFO and the Coast Guard will staff upwards of 900 positions across Canada and on all three coasts.