British Columbia

Coast Guard dismantles Vancouver's search and rescue dive team

The Coast Guard's team of emergency rescue divers — the only team of its kind in Canada — is being dismantled following a program review from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Emergency rescue dive team will be assigned to new roles, says Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Canadian Coast Guard emergency dive team responds to sunken vessels, vehicles, and aircraft. (CBC)

The Canadian Coast Guard's only team of emergency rescue divers is being shut down.

The Richmond-based Sea Island emergency crew is the only one of its kind in Canada. The team is responsible for rescues and recoveries of people trapped in submerged boats, vehicles and aircraft.

The divers — who are regularly deployed with the Sea Island base's hovercraft during dozens of rescue missions each year — will be assigned new jobs within the Coast Guard as part of the organization's budgeting strategy.

"Funding is not being cut, but rather redirected as the government is reprioritizing resources to enhance search and rescue capacity and response," said Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokesperson Michelle Imbeau in an emailed statement to CBC News.

The DFO says the diving team "is not part of the core Search and Rescue mandate."

Cancelled once before

The 15-member dive team began as a pilot project in 1995, and was dismantled once before, in February 2001, due to concerns of its cost-effectiveness.

But two days after it was cancelled, a man crashed his vehicle into the Fraser River just a short distance from the Sea Island base. He was trapped in his submerged vehicle when the Coast Guard arrived on scene minutes later.

Two former dive team members were onboard the rescue vessel that was dispatched  — but they were not permitted to dive because their equipment had been taken away.

The driver eventually drowned.

At the time, frustrated Coast Guard officer Dave Percy said the man's life could have been saved if the team was still allowed to dive.

Cap Rouge II

The coast guard eventually reinstated the project months later, after strong public backlash — but new regulations kept divers from entering sunken ships or vehicles.

In August 2002, a fishing vessel named Cap Rouge II capsized near the mouth of the Fraser River. Five people were trapped in the overturned boat when rescue divers arrived shortly after.

It took 90 minutes before divers were allowed to enter the boat — and by then everyone inside had drowned.

The incident prompted a policy change in 2003 that allowed divers to enter submerged vessels, vehicles, and aircraft.