British Columbia

Coast guard marine traffic control system failure concerns boaters

Boat operators in Vancouver are worried after the Canadian Coast Guard's vessel traffic services system in Georgia Strait lost radio communication for 15 minutes on Sunday night.

Failure affected marine traffic communications in Georgia Strait on Sunday evening

An oil tanker is guided by tugboats under Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge at the mouth of Burrard Inlet. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Boat operators in Vancouver are worried after the Canadian Coast Guard's vessel traffic services system in Georgia Strait lost radio communication for 15 minutes on Sunday night.

The system was down from Nanaimo to the Canada-U.S. border, including the Gulf Island and the Vancouver Area.

One commercial captain says the problem was made worse in Vancouver's busy harbour by the federal governments' decision to close the coast guard's marine communications and traffic centre in Vancouver and move it to Victoria.

"This is something in my over decade on the water I have never seen before," says Robin Pascall, a commercial water craft captain. 

"The old system obvious worked. This sort of thing would be unheard for traffic to shut down," he says. "It is the marine equivalent of air traffic control saying our radar doesn't work and everyone has to land on their own."

(Andy Clark/Reuters)

However the Canadian Coast Guard says the outages aren't out of the ordinary and it has protocols and procedures to maintain communications with mariners.

Pascall says that is not good enough, especially  when the weather was bad.

"It would have been chaos. You don't want to have something pop out of the blue where in a port we have a lot of tankers and oil vessels."

He added that if the communications centre was still in Vancouver, it could have kept visual contact with the vessels at all times from its former location on top of the Vancouver Sun building at 555 West Hastings overlooking Burrard Inlet and English Bay.

The closure was part of a plan announced in 2012 to reorganize Coast Guard operations, including the controversial closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station.

The plan included closing 10 marine communications centres across the country, and upgrading the technology in the 12 remaining centres to manage a wider area.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Port Metro Vancouver's communications system went down. In fact it was the Canadian Coast Guard's system that went down.
    May 20, 2015 8:18 AM PT

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