British Columbia

B.C. Premier Christy Clark praises rescuers in Tofino boat tragedy

B.C. Premier Christy Clark praised the members of the Ahousaht First Nation and the community of Tofino for saving the lives of the survivors of Sunday's deadly capsizing of a whale-watching boat.

5 passengers died and 1 person is still missing after MV Leviathan II capsized

B.C. Premier Christy Clark arrives in Tofino on Tuesday to speak to the community about the whale-watching tragedy. (Belle Puri/CBC)

B.C. Premier Christy Clark praised the members of the Ahousaht First Nation and the community of Tofino for saving the lives of the survivors of Sunday's deadly capsizing of a whale-watching boat.

"The people here stepped up, stepped in and saved lives," said Clark, who was in Tofino with Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Naomi Yamamoto and Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne on Tuesday.

Five British nationals died when the 19-metre-long MV Leviathan II went down off the coast of Vancouver Island. The search is back on today for a sixth passenger — an Australian man — who is missing and presumed dead. Twenty-one people, including three crew members, were pulled from the water by the rescuers.

"I felt really, really proud to be British Columbian," said Clark, adding she would be nominating the two communities for the province's new citizenship award.

Clark also praised the actions of the Canadian Coast Guard, emergency responders and staff at the local hospital.

"I've been a critic of the coast guard in the past for failure or lack of co-ordination," said Clark, "But not in this case. It appears the coast guard responded within minutes of getting the call."

The premier also indicated the province would be providing more training for First Nations search and rescue teams on the coast.

"The Ahousaht First Nation did not miss a beat. First Nations on this coast have been fishing it for millennia. Nobody knows the water better," she said. "But they need more help. We'll be there to help them do that."

Clark also promised to speak to emergency responders to identify service gaps the incident might have revealed, but denied suggestions the small local hospital was overwhelmed by the large number of victims.

"It was busy. It was at capacity, no question, but they performed up to and beyond anybody's expectations.... We should be incredibly proud of the people who live here." she said.

Clark did say the province is working on getting a heli-pad for the Tofino Hospital.

'Horrified and heartbroken'

On a personal note, Clark said she was heartbroken by the incident, revealing that her father and sister nearly perished in a boating accident when she was a young girl, 

"I was horrified and heartbroken. My family grew up on the coast. My grandfather was born as a fisherman, all his life. My dad was a fisherman all his life. I remember when I was eight years old my father and sister almost perished in a boating accident, and they were saved by people like these; someone who got in a boat, saw them floundering and saved their lives."

The premier said this isn't the time to discuss making life-jackets mandatory on tour boats, but she will be watching the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations closely.

Clark shakes the hand of British Consul General Rupert Potter on Tuesday in Tofino. Potter is in the town to aid the victims and families involved in Sunday's capsize of a whale-watching boat that killed five British citizens.

Clark said she understands people on B.C.'s coast make personal decisions about life-vests.

"I never get in a boat without a life-jacket unless it's a B.C. ferry, because having almost having lost my dad and my sister to the ocean it's not a risk I want to take."

British Consul General Rupert Potter, spoke after Clark, saying he was touched by the warmth and support being offered by the community to the survivors.

"The thing that has struck me is that I'm regularly being stopped on the street by people coming to express their condolences," he said.

The families of many of the victims and survivors would be arriving in the coming days he said.

Officials have yet to release any information on the cause of the capsize.

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