Coast Guard members worried lives may be lost with decision to axe dive team
Published Thursday, May 25, 2017 7:09PM PDT
CTV News has learned that B.C.'s Coast Guard dive team is being cut, just as the busy summer boating season begins.
Members of the team are under a strict gag order, threatened with disciplinary action if they speak about it publicly, but several told CTV Vancouver that they worry lives will be lost because of the decision.
When a 90-year-old dove into the waters of Mill Bay in 2015, it was the dive team that tried to save him. The rescue is just one of dozens of life-saving operations conducted by the team over the years.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is discontinuing the team, saying it's not part of the Coast Guard's search and rescue mandate and that the money would be better spent elsewhere.
"I'm shocked. It's a step backwards in conducting search and rescue," said retired Coast Guard commander Fred Moxey.
"The dive team is vital for the Vancouver area, specifically for the amount of incidents that we get."
He said he's worried it that without specially-trained experts, those without experience or passersby may try to conduct dangerous rescues instead. Moxey said highly trained professionals should be the ones dealing with dangerous water rescues.
"They've got specialized equipment… They have communications with the dive master and the diver constantly all the time," he said.
"Overturned boats, overturned vessels, cars, that's what happens in and around the Vancouver area, and the diving capability is needed."
And history shows the team's value.
It was axed in 2001 under the Jean Chretien Government, citing cost and safety concerns. Two high-profile incidents followed with several deaths.
"It was very tough to stand here and not be able to dive," a member of the team told reporters at the time.
Public pressure in the face of fatalities saw the ministry backtrack and ultimately expand the program to include a full team and a backup team on a 24-hour a day, seven days per week basis.
And two years ago, Justin Trudeau campaigned on marine safety during a visit to Metro Vancouver.
"I have been clear. The Liberal Party of Canada, if we form government, will reopen a full-service Coast Guard station in Vancouver and reinvest in marine safety," he said in 2015.
Though the dive team has been cut completely, DFO has confirmed that the Kitsilano base will stay open. Overall staffing will be increased over the next three years, the ministry said.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Penny Daflos