Fishermen recover body of captain stranded in vessel off Canso

Fishermen have recovered the body of Captain Roger Stoddard who was at the helm of a fishing vessel that became stranded about four kilometres off Canso, N.S.

Steven Goreham says he found his friend’s body in his bunk on Friday morning

Six fishermen took a boat out early Friday morning to recover the body. (Submitted by Stephen Scott Bushell)

Fishermen sailed into dangerous waters Friday morning when they went aboard the shattered remains of a fishing boat to recover the body of one of their own — the captain of the boat that's been stranded off the coast of Canso, N.S., for the past three days.

Steven Goreham said he and five others took a boat out Friday morning when the tide was low to try to recover their friend, Roger Stoddard, who they believed was dead.

Stoddard was the last crew member still on board the Fisherman's Provider II, which became stuck on a shoal about four kilometres offshore on Tuesday.

"We have closure for the family," said Goreham. "Unfortunately he's not alive, but no man can survive that, but he's going home where he belongs."

Steven Goreham is a long time friend of Roger Stoddard and retrieved his friend's body from the remains of the fishing boat Fisherman's Provider II. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Goreham said Stoddard was a family man with several children, a man of his word and a great captain who always made sure his fishing crew was safe.

After retrieving the body, Goreham called Stoddard's family to let them know.

"Daddy's coming home," he said choking back tears. "He's not alive, but daddy's coming home."  

RCMP have confirmed the body of Stoddard, 64, was recovered. Police took over the investigation Thursday after they said the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre "exhausted its efforts."

Three crew members of the Fisherman's Provider II were rescued Tuesday evening. A Canadian Coast Guard officer with the rescue centre said Thursday that the captain had "elected" to remain on board.

Goreham believes that Stoddard may have stayed on the boat because he didn't think he was in any real danger and could get off later if necessary.   

Rescuers can't force someone off their vessel

Harvey Vardy is the superintendent for Maritime Search and Rescue for the Canadian Coast Guard Atlantic Region.

He said they don't know why the captain wanted to remain on the boat, but said the Coast Guard cannot force anyone off their vessel, even if that person is in danger.

"In this situation we stayed on scene, we made several attempts to make contact with the master of the vessel, there was no response to the Canadian Coast Guard. We continued to remain on scene and search for the captain and unfortunately we were not able to bring him off the vessel."     

The weather was too poor for coast guard officers to board the Fisherman's Provider II said Vardy, and there were no signs of Stoddard over the next 24 hours.

RCMP were at the wharf in Canso Friday morning where the fishermen returned with Stoddard's body. (Submitted by Coady Robert Avery )

Experienced coast guard crews who are trained in search and rescue determined going onto the boat was too dangerous, said Vardy. So a coast guard ship stayed in the area, but its crews were ordered not to go aboard the Fisherman's Provider II.

"I can appreciate the local fishermen wanted to assist but there was a lot of risk in what they did … to bring the captain off the vessel."

Goreham said he and another man went Friday onto the boat, which was severely damaged. It made the recovery difficult, he said, as they had to cut the roof off to get to the bottom deck.

"It wasn't looking very good to find a body, that's for sure, but he got cold and he went in his bunk. That's where we found him, under the debris," he said.

Goreham said they brought the body back to shore, where an ambulance and RCMP were waiting.

So far the RCMP have not determined a cause of death and don't know exactly when an autopsy will be performed.

The Cape Roger, a Canadian Coast Guard vessel, is seen by the stranded fishing boat. (Stephen Scott Bushell)

Leonard Jewers, of Clarks Harbour, helped co-ordinate the early morning recovery even though he's currently in Quebec. He said the fishermen left the wharf just before 7 a.m., and within an hour they were on their way back.

They knew all along it was a recovery mission, he said.

"We knew that and that's why they took a body bag with them. And for the coast guard to just up and leave that man die, it don't make sense," Jewers said.

Ship stranded Tuesday

Four people were on board the boat when it became stuck and a radio message was sent out that the fishermen were abandoning ship.

Another fishing vessel, the Miss Lexi, came to the stranded men's aid and the crew managed to get three of the fishermen off the vessel.

The military's Joint Task Force Atlantic said the men who were rescued appeared to be in good shape.

Goreham said fishermen take care of their own.

"I've known [Stoddard] all my life and as kids we grew up together," he said. "And so if that was me, he'd be the first one there for me."

The Fisherman's Provider II is shown in a 2014 file photo, before it was repainted. (Submitted by Enchanted Blue Planet)

Nelson Harnish, who lives a few kilometres outside Canso, was at the wharf when Goreham's boat returned.

He said he wants to know why it was up to a group of local fishermen to do what the coast guard and RCMP should have done.

"The boat wasn't in all that much danger of leaving where it was at," Harnish said.

"I mean, they knew the boat was there ... but it didn't seem like anybody worried about getting him off until they got so upset and disgusted that the local fishermen said, 'Let's go get him.'"

This was only the fourth trip out to sea for the vessel after a refit last year, according to an email to CBC News from the Fisherman's Market, the company that owns the boat.

The company said Stoddard played an "instrumental" part in that refit, and that Stoddard was a skilled shipwright and a courageous, driven fisherman.

With files from Brett Ruskin, David Burke, and Marina Von Stackelberg