Vancouver coast guard base shut by Conservatives to re-open

Closure of Kitsilano coast guard station was controversial

VANCOUVER – A Vancouver coast guard base shuttered amid controversy by the former Conservative government will be re-opening.

Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo toured the former Kitsilano coast guard station Wednesday with B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Tootoo said Vancouver residents take pride in having one of the most picturesque harbours in the world, while noting the port is also the largest and busiest in the country.

“Given the large volume of marine traffic and cargo that moves in and out of this port, it is important that the Canadian Coast Guard has an active and visible presence on these waters,” he told reporter while standing in front of the base.

The closure of the station in 2013 as a cost-cutting measure was loudly criticized at the time and again when a grain ship spilled 2,800 litres of bunker fuel into Vancouver’s harbour last April.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an election campaign promise to re-open the base, which he reaffirmed in a mandate letter when Tootoo was appointed the minister in charge of the coast guard last month.

Tootoo said preliminary work to restore the long-abandoned site will begin shortly and it will be “back in business” as soon as possible.

The coast guard estimated in 2013 that the closure would save the federal government about $700,000 annually. Tootoo said he did not yet have an estimate for the cost of re-opening.

Asked whether the base would be staffed at the level it was previously, Tootoo said he’s asked the coast guard to come up with a staffing proposal. But the minister vowed the base would be an around-the-clock operation that meets the high standard of all stations across Canada.

Clark said she was pleased the new federal government made the change for the safety of those who use the harbour.

“It’s never too late to reverse a mistake that was made,” she said. “We are so delighted that you’re keeping that promise today.”

Robertson said the re-opening of the base, which responded to 300 calls a year, was “great news” for the city.

“We saw a real challenge this past summer with the oil spill here in English Bay,” he said. “Not having resources here on this site, just a stone’s throw from where the oil was spilled on the harbour, certainly made a difference.”

The coast guard faced heavy criticism for its response to the spill after it took 12 hours to install an oil-absorbing boom around the ship and to notify the city.

Former Kitsilano coast guard commander Fred Moxey insisted at the time that if the station had been open, it would have been able to respond in less than 10 minutes.

But the coast guard said repeatedly that the Kitsilano base was a search-and-rescue location that was not equipped to handle the spill from the MV Marathassa.

A review of the incident did not make a recommendation regarding the Kitsilano base, and its author John Butler told reporters the additional resources wouldn’t have made a difference.

Coast Guard Commissioner Jody Thomas said Wednesday the review found two major issues — a captain who refused to acknowledge his ship was leaking, and communication problems.

She said those who responded on the water that night did the best they could under the circumstances and the coast guard had rectified the issues brought to light by the review.

“More eyes on the water, always useful, but I think those two problems still would have existed regardless.”

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