Stung by the cuts

Andrew Robinson
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Opposition to marine rescue centre’s closure continues to pour in

Telegram file photo

Larry Tremblett knows a thing or two about the dangers of making a living at sea. It gives him all the more reason to be upset about the federal Conservative government’s plan to shut down the St. John’s Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre.

“When you go out on the ocean now, there’s any number of things that can happen, and they can happen in the blink of an eye,” said the Bonavista fisherman.

On April 17, 1985, Tremblett was retrieving herring nets in a small boat with his brother, Lloyd.

“One minute we were hauling herring nets, and then 20 seconds from that the boat was full of water and we were bottom-up with the two of us in the water. I managed to scramble back aboard the boat, but my brother wasn’t able to make it.”

The nature of the incident, in which the small boat overturned, prevented him from seeking help. Larry Tremblett was up to his waist in water and left stranded for five hours before people aboard another boat saw what had happened and came to rescue him.


He was later told in hospital that had he remained in the ocean for 10 more minutes, he may have met the same fate as his brother.

“Whether you’re 200 feet from shore or 200 miles, it happens, just like that. … Minutes count for this.”

Tremblett, who has been fishing for over 30 years, firmly believes that boats in distress will have a better chance of receiving the timely help they need if co-ordinating services remain available in St. John’s, where staff with local knowledge can better assist rescue efforts.

The sub-centre in St. John’s provides search and rescue co-ordination, aids communication efforts and contributes local knowledge to support the work of other centres. The federal government’s plan would shift those responsibilities to centres in Halifax and Trenton, Ont.

“Everyone in Newfoundland needs to cause one big stink on this,” said Tremblett, adding he is disappointed in Labrador cabinet minister Peter Penashue’s defence of the cuts.

Penashue, speaking in St. John’s on Tuesday, said that cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) were necessary to reduce the deficit. In a press release the following day, he said the closure of the sub-centre would not affect the safety and security of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Reportedly 12 employees in St. John’s will be affect by the closure, which is part of $56 million in cuts made to DFO’s budget in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“There’s a damn lot of things they can cut back on rather than search and rescue,” said Tremblett.

“One minute we were hauling herring nets, and then 20 seconds from that the boat was full of water and we were bottom-up with the two of us in the water. I managed to scramble back aboard the boat, but my brother wasn’t able to make it.” Larry Tremblett

The federal government has developed new regulations in recent years affecting fish harvesters, including one that requires them to obtain a Maritime Radio Operators certificate.

“Fishermen have no problem with doing training courses and stuff like that with regards to safety, but while we’re out there doing it, we want them to back us up,” Tremblett said.

Meanwhile, unions and politicians continue to voice opposition to the closure of the St. John’s sub-centre. Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, said her union will fight all cuts to public services in the province.

“We are in disbelief that the Harper government would so callously move communications services with maritime rescue to the mainland, knowing this province’s history with loss of life on our waters,” said Furlong, who was also critical of tax cuts to large businesses announced in Monday’s federal budget.

Liberal MP Judy Foote has also aired her disapproval with the cuts.

“Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have made their living at sea for centuries and this latest decision clearly shows the reckless disregard the Harper government holds for maritime safety,” she said in a press release Thursday.

The Random-Burin-St. George’s MP highlighted investments in new prisons and fighter jets as misplaced priorities for the federal Conservatives.

A union representing offshore workers, many of whom remain mindful of the March 12, 2009 Cougar helicopter crash that killed 17 passengers en route to an oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland, also came out against the planned shutdown of the St. John’s rescue centre.

“Following the Cougar crash of 2009, the shortcomings of the search and rescue system have become apparent through the Wells inquiry,” said Chuck Shewfelt, Atlantic vice-president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.

“Although there have been some improvements, it makes no sense to start taking steps backwards by removing the local expertise present in the St. John’s centre. If anything, we need more resources, not less, at the search and rescue station.”

The St. John’s sub-centre is responsible for 900,000 square kilometres of ocean and 28,956 kilometres of coastline, and responds to 500 incidents involving nearly 3,000 people on an annual basis.

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Maritime Radio Operators, Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees Conservatives.A union Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Halifax, Trenton

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Recent comments

  • Lady M
    June 11, 2011 - 15:24

    Strange isn't it that the amount of the cuts to close the marine rescue call centre is the same as the amount wasted on Tony Clement's riding during the G8 : even stranger than fiction is the fact that Tony has been put in charge of finding places to save money : how does he live with himself?

  • Joseph McGrath
    June 10, 2011 - 10:08

    The loss of this service is a disgrace and the fact that the Premier has not spoken out against it is even more disgraceful but not a real suprise. Politicians and others seeking election in October are beginning to see the truth in the following phrase.The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” - Ronald Reagan

  • David
    June 10, 2011 - 08:44

    If you want to make the argument about this being a bad isdea, save all the fishing stories. Instead, tell us about the research that shows the phone system in St. John's is more reliable and better-built than the phone system in Halifax, or that the competence of the Halifax staff is not equal to that of the St. John's staff. Those would be relevant bits of information to this decision.

      June 10, 2011 - 13:44

      This is not nearly as simple as who picks up the phone when you call in an emergency and then telling someone else to go do something about it!? One of MRSC's MANY functions is the relaying of communications to the tasked responding resources, but their job is FAR more astoundingly complicated than that. They are the absolute brains behind any Search and Rescue mission in their area (saving some weird situation where someone else may have jurisdiction, but short of Ottawa stepping in for some national security crisis, I can't think of any.) From the initial call, or notice from one of the LOCAL Coast Guard Radio stations, or many other possible initiators, they organize and arrange EVERYTHING to do with the search. They have to know the area involved, the closest and best available resources to respond, how they can work as a team with the other resources available. Whether they have the required equipment aboard (medical, SAR pumps, Firefighting you name it), they have to co-ordinate many professional resources with non-professionals, Coast Guard, Military, Auxiliary, pleasure boaters, other volunteers, EMS services including at times ground search and rescue, local ambulances, local hospitals, air ambulances, Dr's, at the same time often dealing with and counselling family members of those lost or injured throughout the entire process. They have to create a SAR plan, decide on the last known area, calculate time, wind, weather, sea conditions, tides, drift, local topographical effects,....decide the best course of action, determine which resource will run which search pattern to cover off the best and most effective search for the area as possible, and they have to relay all of that information to the resources on scene and provide continual updates as the search evolves. The enormities of their importance in a well-run SAR tasking is astounding, and the value of their local knowledge from their many years in the marine industry in our own LOCAL waters is INVALUABLE and simply cannot be done anywhere near the same level from Halifax or Trenton or anywhere else. While the people working in those other locations are I’m sure capable people, with the greatest respect, they’ve got their hands full already and they simply cannot do the job for the local population as well as the local MRSC. Nor could our guys (and girls) start taking calls from Nova Scotia or Quebec and be as effective as they are here in Newfoundland and Labrador. The variables that come into play in Search and Rescue missions are amazingly complex and any advantage you have you better use to the fullest of your abilities. (I cannot even begin to get into that, but something as simple as the language barrier in speaking with local fisherpeople, our accent is unique and it gets even better over a VHF radio with a poor connection! …or having a better understanding of the local weather patterns, weather plays an enormous factor in searches, and I wouldn’t trust the mainland whether predictions for my weekend BBQ plans, let alone key decisions that have to be made for a loved one’s rescue and safe return!) These skills cannot be transferred and many of the local people if told to move would either transfer or take early retirement, so it would mean losing many of these people from the system permanently which would be catastrophic.

    • David
      June 11, 2011 - 12:47

      Comments...not manifestos. Brevity.