On the evening of Feb 7th shortly before 10:00 p.m., the Sooke RCMP responded to a call reporting an overturned vessel on the shores of East Sooke along Christie Point. It was a Search and Rescue vessel that had run aground and overturned, injuring
three four of the four people on board. One member of the crew was transported to hospital via air ambulance and two others were transported to hospital by ground ambulance. The fourth crew member was uninjured. (corrected – 4:56pm)
This incident motivated two former volunteers to speak out against the organization; a response from the organization follows below.
In an online blog, one former volunteer Jeff W found that when he started there in 2015 that things were disorganized.
“Crews would be heading out for calls and training with inadequate or missing gear,” he writes, “the rescue vessels were not properly serviced, cleaned, labeled or equipped for service.”
Nine months after starting, he was made the station’s Equipment Officer. A disagreement in priorities resulted in him eventually being removed from this post. According to Jeff, there were also others who expressed concern about inconsistent vessel maintenance and training, and an absence of standard operating procedures. He also documents several training incidences that put volunteers at risk, and makes the claim that substance abuse was also an issue.
“I stayed silent for a year trying to figure out the best way to voice my concerns and experiences, hoping that it wouldn’t come to anybody getting injured or killed,” Jeff writes. “This morning I woke up to an image of the Spirit of Sooke rescue vessel upside down on the rocks and reports of crew in critical condition, air-lifted to hospital. This makes me absolutely furious.” The vessel was a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) 36 foot rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) that had been out on a training exercise.
He had started with RMCSAR motivated by passion, and felt he worked hard to clean things up. He eventually left, disheartened.
You can read his full criticism on his blog post, here.
Another former volunteer also had sharp words for the local Search and Rescue, left as a comment to an article published on SPN. You can read that comment, here.
In response, the local RCMSAR issued a statement to Sooke PocketNews, sent on behalf of the Sooke Station leadership and endorsed by RCMSAR Headquarters. They state that safety is their priority, and add that they are conducting an internal investigation which will also consider improvements. Their full response is published below:
“Safety is the number one priority in all of our activities. Sooke Station takes this responsibility seriously and is accountable to RCMSAR Headquarters for compliance with all maritime regulations and organizational policies including the Safety Management System that sets out guidance and procedures for the safe operating of our vessels; and a safe reporting policy that sets a framework for any member to come forward to station leadership or indeed RCMSAR Headquarters if they fear wrongdoing or if safety is a concern. In addition, RCMSAR has a mandatory risk assessment procedure that is required every time a vessel leaves the dock. To follow up and continuously review safety, training and equipment, RCMSAR conducts annual station safety audits and has also instituted an internal Safety and Training Board that reports to the Board of Governors Safety and Risk Committee. Sooke Station reports to these bodies and receives their direction and guidance. Safety and lessons learned bulletins are shared fleet-wide. RCMSAR has a complete policy manual that describes this and many other leadership and management procedures and requirements. We strive to ensure a culture of safety and learning at all levels of the organization.
“RCMSAR Headquarters convened a formal investigation the day after the accident occurred. This investigation is underway and is being co-led by RCMSAR and Canadian Coast Guard safety staff. RCMSAR asked for Coast Guard external expertise to support the investigation as a trusted partner and as the legislated authority for federal maritime search and rescue. One of the key requirements for the investigation is to make recommendations to reduce the risk of a recurrence and improve the Safety Management System. Sooke Station is supporting the investigation completely and the entire organization looks forward to applying what is learned. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from the community of Sooke and our colleagues on and off the water.”
The file remains under investigation and the RCMP West Coast Marine Section is engaged.