Canadian Coast Guard vessels pictured off West Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics.

Canadian Coast Guard vessels pictured off West Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics.

Ottawa only talked to itself on Coast Guard base closure

Search and rescue responders at Kitsilano to move to Richmond

Federal officials now admit they did not consult local authorities – only other federal government arms such as the military – before announcing their decision to close Vancouver’s Coast Guard base at Kitsilano.

The decision to consolidate Coast Guard operations in the area at Sea Island in Richmond has sparked concern boaters may be at increased risk and face longer search-and-rescue response times in Vancouver harbour and up Indian Arm.

Jody Thomson, the Canadian Coast Guard‘s Deputy Commissioner of Operations, said consultations are now beginning with the province, municipalities and other stakeholders not previously notified. Conservative MP James Moore had previously said there was broad consultation in advance, a claim contradicted by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Thomson said there has been considerable “misinformation” over the impact of the consolidation, a federal budget measure to save $900,000.

“We would not take decisions that are going to place mariners at increased risk,” Thomson said.

She said there will continue to be effective response throughout the area by rescue hovercraft stationed at Sea Island, Coast Guard auxiliaries or even private boats close to an incident.

Under international law, she said, any vessel near a distress call can be tasked to respond, but said Ottawa doesn’t expect to rely often on that option after the Kitsilano base closes.

A new inshore rescue boat will also be added in Vancouver harbour before the Kitsilano base shuts down in the spring of 2013, she added.

“We think this is the best mix of resources,” Thomson said. “It won’t change the level of service in the Vancouver harbour area.”

Thomson said the Kitsilano base handled around 200 search and rescue calls each year and the nine calls handled over the Victoria Day weekend could have been handled by other responders in the area.

One hovercraft now based at Sea Island will also be replaced by a larger one next year.