Prince Rupert City Council is sending a second letter to protest the decommissioning of the Coast Guard’s 70ft Point Henry and plans to replace it with a 47ft manned lifeboat.
Council already sent a letter in November expressing concerns, but has agreed to send a second one after hearing from local mariners.
Area A Director for the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District and longtime fisherman Des Nobels told council the retiring of the Point Henry has created quite a stir in the community and in the region.
“Many of my constituents are extremely concerned this is going to put them at odds. There’s a belief that the proposed vessel that’s being brought in will not serve the region as well as the Point Henry has in the past,” Nobels said.
The Point Henry has provided up to 50 medical trips a year in addition to its regular search and rescue operations, he added.
“The vessel they are proposing to bring in essentially cuts in half the ability of that vessel to respond to what the Point Henry is doing at present. There’s a very poor ability to carry passengers on the smaller vessels in any degree of comfort. If there are more than three or four individuals that they have to pick up, they will have to ride on the back,” Nobels said.
He also said the Point Henry has significant firefighting capabilities, something the new vessel does not.
“There’s been some concern that the issue here is perhaps being blown out of proportion and in reality this is more an issue of crew comfort as opposed to safety. That may be the case, but I would put to you, if the crew is uncomfortable, what are those people they’ve just picked up feeling like?”
Nobels met with the Coast Guard in 2010 at one of its annual feedback sessions regarding service in the region. At the time, he told the Coast Guard it needed to increase its capabilities, by adding more helicopters and service vessels on Haida Gwaii.
“We’re finding now that we’re actually having service reduced, which is strange, considering the increase in traffic we see in this region, both commercially and recreationally. We need a vessel that far outstrips what the major portion of this province requires,” Nobels said.
Local fisherman Dave Prosser said the Point Henry is being replaced because the 47ft vessel is becoming the standard rescue lifeboat on the coast.
“They are standardizing resources. The prime reason the Point Henry is being decommissioned is because it doesn’t fit the mould. Over the years we’ve become increasingly dependent on the US Coast Guard of Alaska and this is going to make it even more so. It’s kind of embarrassing. I’ve been aware of three or four rescues in the last couple of years that they’ve sent a chopper from Sitka and rescued people from the Canadian coast,” Prosser said.
Councillor Gina Garon said when council met with Marc Gregoire, Western Commissioner for the Coast Guard, in December in Prince Rupert they were told that two 125ft vessels were being built for the Pacific Coast in 2013.
Council followed up with a request to the Coast Guard that one of the vessels be stationed in Prince Rupert if the removal of the Point Henry was going to be a done deal.
Prosser said a 125 ft. vessel wouldn’t be appropriate on the North Coast.
“They are considerably slower,” he said. “One of the Point Henry’s jobs when it first came on was an incident at Langara Island. It made it there in 5 hours in extremely heavy winds, which impressed the hell out of me that he could average 20 knots in extremely heavy conditions.”
Mark Newbery, Commodore of the Prince Rupert Yacht Club, said his 103-member club is convinced the loss of the Point Henry will put all seafarers at risk.
Newbery told council the 47ft vessel would not have anywhere near the sufficient service range to provide adequate protection for any vessel traffic going through Hecate Strait or Queen Charlotte Sound.
“The crew members of the Coast Guard will not be able to support the Rapids Response vessel they presently enjoy on the Point Henry,” he said.
After council passed a motion to send the second letter, Councillor Sheila Gordon-Payne referred to the recent study released last month by the Standing Senate Committee on the staffing of lighthouses and said there are some key points in the report.
“One thing they say is ‘the Coast Guard needs to abandon its blanket one-size-fits-all approach to staffing’. I think we can say that it also needs to abandon that approach with capital purchases,” Gordon-Payne.
“They also note that as a special operating agency, the Coast Guard has much more operational and financial flexibility than a conventional department of government. So I think that might support our case with a bigger ship as well,” she added.