Various governmental agencies in Nova Scotia have been pushing the safety at sea issue for fishermen for quite some time — and their efforts seem to be paying off, in a big way.
While the commercial fishery remains the most dangerous occupation in Canada and each year claims far too many lives and limbs, the days of sailing without the prerequisite safety equipment aboard are long gone.
I remember when survival suits came out. The resistance was immense — they were too bulky and most importantly, too expensive.
The Europeans were way ahead of us in this regard. Way back in the 1970s Joe Gough, who owned a commercial fishing newspaper out of Ottawa and later became Governor General Romeo LeBlanc’s press secretary, and I were in Norway when he donned one of the suits and jumped into the Oslo Fjord. I refused — I have this thing about heights and water. The suit Joe used was definitely bulky.
The times, as well as the suits, have changed.
The crew and an observer aboard the 65-foot dragger Poseidon Princess, sailing out of Lower West Pubnico, N.S. for its owner, Inshore Fisheries, can be thankful for that.
Their vessel keeled on its side and sank within minutes while returning from Georges Bank with more than 100,000 pounds of haddock in the early hours of January 31. They were about 90 kilometres out at sea from their home port.
The skipper, Captain Kevin Garland and an observer, were in bed. When the vessel listed and refused to straighten up, the crewman at the wheel advised the skipper.
Here’s where proper safety training and quick action saved them all.
A mayday signal was sent, the four men donned survival suits, ejected a self-inflatable life raft and jumped into the frigid ocean.
The Poseidon Princess sank within minutes.
Without the survival suits, the four most likely would have perished as the water temperature was around two degrees with 65-kilometre winds and three-metre seas.
Three crewmen managed to scamper aboard the raft but the observer drifted away. Captain Garland tried to swim towards him but couldn’t reach him so returned to the raft.
The entire foursome was picked up by an offshore scalloper, the Atlantic Destiny, that received the mayday message earlier.
This quick action and adherence to detail saved these lives. Any of you who might think this safety equipment is too expensive, bulky, or that safety training is useless should consider the alternative, a body bag.