Letters: Two letters responding to Fletcher column

In response to Coast Guard hysteria sinks lower" column

Coast Guard is 911 for ships

Re: “Coast Guard hysteria sinks lower” (B.C. Views, April 29).

The “ship monitoring stations” that Tom Fletcher refers to are more than just that. Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) Centres perform two distinct but complimentary functions. They provide vessel traffic services, and provide communications and coordination to detect distress situations similar to a 911 centre for mariners.

They also broadcast maritime safety information, screen vessels entering Canadian waters, and provide marine information to other federal departments and agencies. The MCTS Centres are the result of the 1995 merger of Vessel Traffic Services and Coast Guard Radio.

This initiative was proposed by the union, which recognized that technological change provided the opportunity to rationalize services and save money. The result was that the combined service went from 44 centres to 22 and staff was reduced by one third. The reduction in staff was achieved through early retirement and attrition. Total savings of this co-operative effort are $14.5 million per year.

Industry Minister James Moore is quoted as saying that “1970s era ship tracking equipment is being replaced.” That is incorrect; that equipment was replaced five years ago. The equipment being replaced is the communications control system. This is what controls the radio equipment used to communicate with vessels.

This “technological innovation” is a touch screen communications control system that replaces the knobs and switches and touch screens currently in use, hardly a “technological innovation.”

Moore is also quoted as saying “these fears were also raised back in the ’60s and ’70s, when lighthouses were de-staffed.”

The last round of lighthouse de-staffing in the late ‘90s was halted after only a few lighthouses had been de-staffed. The majority of lighthouses on the B.C. coast are still fully staffed.

The recent 30-minute outage in Prince Rupert should be a wake-up call. For people on the water it was the equivalent of ATC and 911 being out of service from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border. If you were in trouble for those 30 minutes and called for help, your only hope of being heard would have been if you were lucky enough to have another vessel close enough to hear you.

When you get in trouble on the water, seconds count. If your house is on fire you can go outside, If your boat is on fire you are in the water. This is not hysteria, this is a fact. There are many examples of mariners who only managed to make one radio call for help before “going down.”

The MCTS Centre in Ucluelet has been closed and the operations have been remoted to Prince Rupert. If the same outage were to occur again, and there is no reason to believe that it won’t, it would cover the entire B.C. outer coast from Washington to Alaska. If you make your living off the water or just like to get out in your boat for fun and this doesn’t worry you, it should.

Scott Hodge

Unifor Local 2182 (Marine Communications Officers)

Kits Coast Guard station still needed

Re: “Coast Guard hysteria sinks lower” (B.C. Views, April 29).

I believe I may be the “retired captain from the now-closed Kitsilano Coast Guard station” referred to by Tom Fletcher.

I am a disgruntled Canadian citizen and voter, not a disgruntled retiree of the Coast Guard. I was good at my job and loved my career.

I retired after 32 years of service to an organization that employs so many talented and hard-working people, all dedicated to lifesaving, marine safety and yes – environmental response. I didn’t even think of getting involved until such time that the exaggerations and fabrications began pouring from the Coast Guard’s commissioners and deputy commissioners’ mouths, all for the purpose of saving the Prime Minister’s reputation for just one of his many ill-thought-out cuts.

The Coast Guard Station Kitsilano was primarily a rescue boat station, but “Kits Base” was also one of the best equipped and trained lifeboat stations in Canada. That’s a fact, not some jaded opinion from a disgruntled ex-employee. We fought fires, responded to numerous oil spills yearly, rescued and assisted hundreds of mariners and boaters annually, trained many “basic oil pollution responders” annually (until that program was shut down also). The staff at the station also monitored and helped to maintain navigational aids in the busy harbour.

I was a coxswain at Kitsilano Base, a trained pollution response technician and a licensed hovercraft pilot. Because of retirement I can now speak freely, unlike the Coast Guard personnel who are still employed and unable to comment due to fear of repercussions from management.

How do you explain closing one of the busiest Coast Guard stations in the country to save $700,000 a year? When will Canadians wake up?

Capt. Tony Toxopeus AMS

Surrey