Kitsilano coast guard base boosts crew for summer, expects new vessel

By The Canadian Press
May 22, 2016 - 12:28am

VANCOUVER — A Vancouver coast guard base reopened by the federal Liberal government will employ more crew members during the busy summer months and get a new search-and-rescue vessel.

Starting this May long weekend, Kitsilano station will have four crews of three working 12-hour shifts. Before the change, the base had two crews of three working eight-hour shifts with 16 hours on call, said Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokesman Dan Bate.

Bate also said that by late summer a new vessel will replace the CCGS Moorhen, an all-weather capable Zodiac Hurricane 1000. The base also has a fast rescue craft and a pollution response vessel, and the coast guard is looking at obtaining a new vessel.

“Canadian Coast Guard is working at acquiring a new search-and-rescue vessel that will meet the needs of Vancouver Harbour and the Greater Vancouver Area,” Bate said in an email. “Three vessels will be assigned to the base at all times.”

The former Conservative government closed the base as a cost-cutting measure in 2013. The Liberals promised on the campaign trail last year to reopen the station, amid criticism of the coast guard’s response to a 2,700-litre bunker fuel spill in English Bay.

The 2016 federal budget committed $23 million over five years to re-open Kitsilano. The coast guard is still planning a “formal” launch and open house, but the date has not been announced, said Bate.

When the base had a “soft launch” May 1, the union representing coast guard workers complained it only had three crew members and didn’t have 24/7 rescue capacity. Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo had promised in December that Kitsilano would be an around-the-clock operation. 

The Union of Canadian Transportation Employees did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

But Bate said the old staffing model provided 24/7 capacity through a combination of standby and shift work. He said crews lived at the station during both working and standby hours, in order to meet the national standard response time of 30 minutes or less.

The new staffing model will have rotating 12-hour shifts and won’t require crews to live at the station, he said.

Bate added the Canadian Coast Guard will work with its search-and-rescue partners during the summer to establish long-term staffing requirements.

On May 10, the coast guard closed a marine communication and traffic services centre in Comox on Vancouver Island, despite warnings from workers that the closure would mean fewer back-ups in case of emergency. Victoria still has a communications station.

Tootoo said in a statement at the time that he accepted the work of a parliamentary standing committee review that found the closure of the Comox station would not affect emergency response on the West Coast.

“I have every confidence that the women and men of the coast guard will continue to deliver the highest standard of services to keep mariners safe and protect our marine environment on the B.C. coast and throughout Canada,” he said.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

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