Ontario MP Cheryl Gallant, seen in 2003, issued a statement offering her 'humble and heartfelt apologies' on Thursday. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))

Ontario Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant responded Thursday to comments she made about search-and-rescue missions last week.

According to an Ottawa Citizen report, Gallant told an audience at a defence committee hearing in St. John's that people who work in the North Atlantic Ocean should not rely on the Coast Guard for help.

"In Ontario we have inland seas, the Great Lakes, and it would never occur to any of us, even up in the Ottawa River, to count on the Coast Guard to come and help us," the Citizen reported Gallant as saying.

The defence committee was holding a meeting in St. John's to gather information about rescue response times. The Citizen reported that the audience at the committee hearing included people who had lost relatives and coworkers in maritime accidents.

Gallant later said her comments were misconstrued and, on Thursday, backed away from the initial statement.

"I want to offer my humble and heartfelt apologies for remarks made regarding search and rescue services," the statement said. "I have the utmost respect and appreciation for Canadians that make their living from the sea, and in no way intended to minimize the dangers they face on a daily basis."

Liberal MP Siobhan Coady, who said her father-in-law was lost at sea, asked about Gallant's comments during question period on Thursday.

"This government constantly shirks its responsibility," she said. "Is that why Conservatives are telling Newfoundlanders and Labradorians 'You're on your own?'"

"The member in question has apologized for her comments," Government House Leader John Baird said. "If someone apologizes, the best thing to do is to accept that apology and move on."