British Columbia

Comox coast guard closing today despite communications concerns

The Comox Coast Guard Communications station is slated to close today — a move the union claims will put lives at risk.

The Coast Guard will now only staff 3 bases on the West Coast: Prince Rupert, Victoria, and Vancouver

In 2012, the then-Conservative government decided to reorganize coast guard operations nationwide and run all West Coast marine communications out of MCTS centres in Prince Rupert and Victoria. (CBC)

The Comox Coast Guard Communications station is slated to close today — a move the union claims will put lives at risk.

With the closure, the coast guard in B.C. will now be staffed in three places —  a communications station in Prince Rupert and another in Victoria, as well as a base in Vancouver that has two inflatable rescue vessels.

But coast guard workers say running two communication stations is not enough to ensure the waters are safe.  

"At times there will be one person covering the entire coast for safety which we feel is quite unsafe," said Scott Hodge, vice president of the coast guard union, Unifor 2182.

The decision to close the station, along with others, was made by the previous Conservative government. The federal Liberals reopened the Kitsilano base in May 2016 after winning the election, but say they will not be doing the same with the Comox station.

A parliamentary standing committee review earlier this year found that the closure of the Comox coast guard station would not affect emergency marine response on the West Coast.

Outages and signal problems

But mariners have reported frequent outages and problems with the quality of the coast guard radio signal on the West Coast.

Hodge recalls one time when the signal was intermittent for hours.

"The entire west coast of the Island was unmonitored for about 14 hours — they were having interrupted communications there," said Hodge.

"This sort of thing has happened quite a bit. And we're worried this could happen in Victoria."

A member of the standing committee told CBC in May the government is keeping an eye on outages.

The marine communication centres are responsible for listening for distress calls and guiding ships, much like air traffic controllers at airports.

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