Members of Vancouver's marine safety network: police, fire, ambulance and volunteer rescue responders; met with Canadian Coast Guard management last week to discuss recently announced changes to CCG services and operating procedures after the impending closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station, the very anchor of Vancouver's marine safety network.
Canadian Coast Guard management presented annual statistics at the meeting by call type for Kitsilano Station for the past 4 years with monthly call statistics for 2011 & 2010.
If the snapshot statistics were intended to justify the closure of the station they certainly do not. One thing they make crystal clear is that: the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station saves lives: 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And that much heralded seasonal Inshore Rescue Boat that the Federal government assured us will help fill the massive hole they are creating in Vancouver's marine safety network? The majority of serious marine distress situations the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station responded to in the past 2 years occurred outside of the proposed seasonal rescue boat operational period.
When asked how Conservative Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield could truthfully say "The level of search and rescue service in Vancouver will not be affected and will remain the same." Coast Guard management lamely replied that he was referring to service "policy" rather than actual service.
The Canadian Coast Guard is clinging to their policy "mandate", their mission to actually save lives in Canada's busiest waterway virtually abandoned in favour of fine print, which says they only need to maintain a 30 minute standby posture. Their expectation, despite their overriding federal jurisdiction, is to leave the remainder of Vancouver's marine safety network holding the bag to attempt to fill in the substantial gaps at the peril of the Canadian public.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Ashfield's claims that "the top priority of the Canadian Coast Guard is the safety of mariners" and that the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station is required to save the $900,000 needed to appear "fiscally responsible" are tragically absurd.
Marine safety is disaster driven. As retired Canadian Coast Guard Captain Mike Kelly said, "Coast Guard bases don't just fall out of the sky, they are paid for in blood." The Kitsilano Coast Guard Station has been saving the lives of Canadians for the past 50 years. One hundred years after the most famous disaster in maritime history, Stephen Harper's Conservatives are in the process of authoring their own sea disaster as they rip the anchor out of Vancouver's marine safety network; a penny wise/pound foolish, landlubber maneuver which will ultimately prove to be a Titanic mistake.