In an interview today with Muskeg News, a high-ranking official with the Coast Guard confirmed a rumour that has been floating around Rupert for the past few months: the Point Henry will be leaving town in the summer.
“She’s at the end of her service life,” said Vija Poruks, the assistant commisioner of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Region. “We’re bringing in a 47-foot lifeboat which is a proven vessel.”
While Poruks gave no exact date on when the changeover will happen, she said the Point Henry (which measures about 67 feet) will probably leave Rupert by the end of June.
“We’ll see about that,” said Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, who’s not convinced the change is a done deal. He said he has a “strong sense” that people will be fighting the decision to bring a 47-foot motor lifeboat to the North Coast.
“Maybe it fits in Comox, maybe it fits in Victoria, but I don’t think it fits at all in Prince Rupert,” said Cullen. “It puts people at risk, and we can’t have that.” He added he will be sending a letter to Gail Shea, the Minister of Fisheries & Oceans; a petition to save the Point Henry has also started circulating around the community.
Political concern about the plan to replace the Point Henry started as early as November, when Prince Rupert’s city council sent a letter to the director-general of Transport Canada for marine safety, taking issue with the “possible repositioning” of the Point Henry.
“Council is concerned that a smaller boat may not be suitable for marine rescues in the adverse weather conditions experienced on the North Coast,” read the letter. “In addition to the larger ocean going ships, we have a lot of smaller vessel traffic on a daily, weekly and monthly basis that may depend on having a reliable rescue boat available.”
Perhaps in response to strengthening rumours, Cullen & North Coast MLA Gary Coons sent out a joint press release last week, also voicing their displeasure with the Point Henry’s possible replacement. “The North Coast is well known for its rugged ocean conditions and unpredictable weather,” states the press release. “Cutting down the response capability of our key Coast Guard ship makes no sense and puts lives in jeopardy.”
To that, Poruks responded that 47-foot motor lifeboats (also known as a SAR lifeboats) have become the Coast Guard’s standard in the Pacific Region. Over the past few years, motor lifeboats have been sent to communities along the coast and on Vancouver Island. “I’m not worried at all about their safety,” said Poruks.
With the replacement, the range of the Coast Guard’s main search-and-rescue vessel in Rupert will be reduced. The Point Henry’s range at sea is 500 nautical miles; the motor lifeboats have a range of 200 nautical miles.
Poruks said she’s “certainly aware” of the shorter range of the motor lifeboats, but she said the Point Henry is not the only Coast Guard vessel in the area. She said there are larger vessels up and down the coast, as well as a lifeboat in Sandspit, and the rescue centre in Esquimalt has the power to send any nearby Coast Guard boat out to any area that requires it.
On top of that, Poruks said, Coast Guard vessels are often not the first on-scene at an emergency. And larger vessels — such as ferries, navy vessels, tugboats and cruise ships — have a legal obligation to answer distress calls, she said.
The new vessel, which does not yet have a name, is still under construction at Victoria Shipyards, said Poruks, and the scheduled delivery date of the boat to the Coast Guard is March 31. After that, it will be given sea trials and fitted with Coast Guard equipment before sailing up to its new home, she said.
There will also be one less sailor aboard the new boat. The Point Henry has a complement of five seamen, who serve on a rotating basis; the motor lifeboat’s complement is four seamen.
The Point Henry arrived in Prince Rupert in 1981 and has since become a staple of the community. She is one of three Coast Guard boats that call Rupert a home port, and the only dedicated search-and-rescue boat; the others are the Arrow Post (built in 1991) and the Kitimat II (built in 1974).
~Written by Chris Armstrong