The federal government is moving ahead with a previously announced plan to have an inflatable rescue boat patrolling the Vancouver Harbour during the summer months.
On Wednesday morning, Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp announced the new service will be based out of the HMCS Discovery Navy Reserve base in Stanley Park.
The service is expected to fill the gaps created by upcoming closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard lifeboat station announced last year as part of a nationwide reorganization of the coast guard.
The closure of the full-time lifeboat station in Kitsilano has raised widespread concerns about boater safety in the Vancouver area, but the federal government has maintained the area will have sufficient resources for emergency responses.
Kamp, who is the Parlimentary Secretary for Fisheries and Oceans, said the Inshore Rescue Boat (IRB) service will be up and running at the Stanley Park base in the spring of 2013 and will work with the Sea Island Station in Richmond, where the coast guard hovercraft is based.
"The new inshore rescue boat station at HMCS Discovery will be able to react quickly to an emergency during the busy boating season in Vancouver, at any time of the day or night, during all types of weather and sea conditions," said Kamp.
The smaller rescue station will be operated from the May long weekend to after Labour Day in September, covering the peak boating season. Staff will include one rescue professional and two summer students.
Volunteer unit also moved to Vancouver Harbour
Kamp said the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCM-SAR), which is staffed by volunteers, has also relocated one of its rescue units from Indian Arm to a central location within the Vancouver Harbour.
The announcement was quickly condemned by Christine Collins, the national president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, which represents Canadian Coast Guard staff.
"This is a shell game," said Collins. "The CCG is trying to create the illusion that all will be well but experience has taught us you can't replace skilled professionals with well-intentioned volunteer recreational boaters.
"It's like asking a St. John's ambulance responder to do the job of a paramedic. I'm afraid people will die before the decision makers realize that this isn't a game."
There are already three Inshore Rescue Boat stations on the West Coast located at Nootka Island, Telegraph Cove and Cortes Island, and a total of 24 across Canada.
The other IRB stations typically provide summer employment for six students, who work on three-person teams using five-metre rigid-hulled inflatable boats.
The students are trained to respond to vessels in distress, fires, public education and medical emergencies. They are paid between $14 and $18 per hour.