West Coast Search and Rescue Part 1
The capacity for West Coast Search and Rescue is critical since many large commercial vessels, ferries and smaller craft ply Canadian waters. Incidents can and will happen. As a coastal nation, we need to be ready. It is too late after an incident to say we should have been better prepared. While public attention has focused on the centennial of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, closer to home, in 1914, the RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the St. Lawrence River off Rimouski with the loss of 1,012 lives (840 passengers and 172 crew). In this article in BC Shipping News argues that On Canada’s West Coast, when it comes to marine SAR during an Empress of Ireland moment, we should never be in a position of saying “we should have been prepared”.
Unique Feature of West Coast Search and Rescue
In many places, there is very little land-based infrastructure on the west coast. People and resources may need to be flown, or floated in, to access significant portions of coastline and major roads only bisect the mainland coast at a few locations north of Port Hardy such as Prince Rupert and Bella Bella. Weather conditions on the coast during much of the year can be harsh with low cloud cover and ceiling that can prevent aircraft from operating during certain weather conditions. Therefore, CCGA-P volunteers and mariners and coastal communities are the first responders until other help arrives. With cruise ships now carrying well over 3000 people in our waters, in the case of an incident this would stretch local resources and coastal community infrastructure. Also there are many smaller marine and aviation SAR incidents which are more frequent in nature and which occur in isolated and remote areas of the coast. For example, there is a great deal of aviation on the coast using fixed wing float planes that are used to travel between coastal communities. All of the recent float plane incidents that involved crashes required a marine SAR response often from the CCGA-P. These are high probability lower risk events that require a robust West Coast Search and Rescue response.