Coast Guard is 911 for ships

If your house is on fire you can go outside, If your boat is on fire you are in the water

To the editor;

Re: “Coast Guard hysteria sinks lower” (B.C. Views, April 28).

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, much like air traffic control for ships, 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 government departments and agencies. The MCTS Centres are the result of the merger of Vessel Traffic Services and Coast Guard Radio that occurred in 1995.

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 the number of 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 that is 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. A new touch screen to replace the old touch screens is hardly a “technological innovation.”

Mr. 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 took place in the late ‘90s and 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)