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Mission ready in Prince Rupert, 8 Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary saving lives at sea

B.C. Coastal SARS leaders meet first time for joint maritime training and emergency simulations

For the first time ever Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (CN-CGA) from eight locations came together in Prince Rupert to stage a multi-unit level Search and Rescue exercise (SAREX) on Oct. 8.

First Nations volunteer Coast Guard unit leaders from Kitkatla, Nisga’a, Quatsino, Ahousaht, Kyuquot, ‘Namgis, Bella Bella and Klemtu-Kitasoo came together for the first time since the inception of the maritime watch program.

“The aim of the SAREX is to increase the unit’s capability to operate from a remote location and advance individual and group force generation objectives for the auxiliary,” CN-CGA stated in a media release.

Jeff Carrow is with the Canadian Coast Guard. He is deputy superintendent of the Indigenous Community Response Training team which is a product of the Oceans Protections Plan, he said.

The team started about five years ago with the mandate to help train and equip First Nations in Search and Rescue (SAR).

“One of the big projects we undertook starting in 2017 was the creation of a First Nations-led Coast Guard Auxillary. These are volunteers from up and down the coast that work under the Canadian Coast Guard and the joint Rescue Coordination Centre to assist in maritime emergencies.”

He said with so many remote places the Coast Guard can not be in all the time, the CN-CGA team members are “incredible assets.”

“This is something these guys have been doing already for hundreds, if not thousands of years … they are fantastic mariners. No one knows their waters as they do.”

The program is designed to help integrate all that knowledge, ability and local expertise to respond with the Coast Guard’s larger capacity support in bigger maritime events, such as the Queen of the North sinking, Carrow said.

“So, it’s a great example where you had all these vessels come out of Hartley Bay and execute a rescue there because it happened right in their territory. Coast Guard showed up within about an hour or so. Then it was able to provide larger support, larger patient care and transport.”

The full-day training event in the Prince Rupert harbour using CN-CGA vessels and the Canadian Coast Guard simulated a SAR marine event away from the crew’s Main Operating Base (MOB). The exercise included validation of safety procedures, deployment checklists, equipment preparedness on the water as well as some dry-land skill challenges.

These exercises included some “SAR Olympics” in the morning with foundational skill-based games such as knot tieing, line throwing and a person overboard recovery. The afternoon saw teams execute a rescue which involved searching for live actor victims on shore and on the water.

“This is kind of a fun day. We’ve never done this before with the auxiliaries. It’s the first time that they’ve all gotten together … It’s thrilling to have them all here,” he said.

The eight auxiliary unit leaders will share the knowledge they gained through the training with their own teams back home, Carrow said.

While there are currently four teams from the central coast and four from the north growth has been slow. There is “absolutely” the capacity for other nations to become part of the Coast Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary, the deputy superintendent said, adding it just takes time to do it right.

“It takes a tremendous amount of equipment and training to get each Nation to the level where they can participate fully as an operational taskable resource for search and rescue,” he said.

The Indigenous Community Response Training has a fund that can assist with training and equipment.

“[This will] get them going to the level of which they can have enough members trained and equipped that they can be a member of the Coastal Nations Auxiliary,” Carrow said.

Fred Thomas, Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary team leader from Ahousaht takes in a day of maritime learning and simulation when eight coastal nations met for the first time in Prince Rupert on Oct. 8. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Coast Guard Auxiliary members from Vancouver Island to the Nass Valley met in Prince Rupert for the first time for training and maritime emergency simulations on Oct. 8. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
The vessel Heiltsuk Warrior is a recent $400,000 investment in the Coastal Nation Auxiliary program. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)