Nfld. & Labrador

Coast Guard insists marine safety will 'improve' under new MCTS system

The Canadian Coast Guard says worries raised about marine safety as a result of the modernization and consolidation of its Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) centres is unfounded.
The Canadian Coast Guard insists the modernization and consolidation of its Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) centres is unfounded and if anything, the services provided will be improved by the move. (The Canadian Coast Guard)

The Canadian Coast Guard says worries raised about marine safety as a result of the modernization and consolidation of its Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) centres is unfounded.

In this province, the MCTS centre in St. John's closed in April, and those services were consolidated into Placentia; the centre in St. Anthony will close and the services there will be folded into Happy Valley-Goose Bay in late August.

When all is said and done, the province will go from five MCTS centres down to three: Placentia, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Port aux Basques. 

That plan has many folks worried that frontline services like responding to distress calls and search and rescue communications could be impacted. 

Greg Lick, director general of operations for Coast Guard, said MCTS services will be impacted, but in a positive way.

"[Services] won't be affected. If anything, they'll be improved," Lick said.

"The coverage we originally supplied just before this project will be exactly the same. The radar antennas, the radio antennas that are out there providing the sort of ears and eyes on the water, that coverage will remain exactly the same."

According to Lick, the consolidation is moving those connections into centres equipped with new communications systems, allowing them to be modernized and made more efficient.

Ten centres closing nationally

The previous complement of 22 MCTS centres across Canada will be reduced to 12 as part of the program. At the same time, a new and upgraded communications system is set to go online.

The entire modernization and consolidation process is expected to cost more than of $63 million. Lick said those costs were going to be incurred inevitably, given the need to replace a lot of the aging equipment.

"We were already going to invest in it, but the investment in new technology has allowed us to become more efficient and consolidate into fewer centres saving taxpayers quite a bit of money," Lick said.

They are familiarized through a training package with that particular area and then before they are given full responsibility for that area, they are fully checked out by people who know that area.- Greg Lick

He added any potential glitches or blind spots in the system would be worked out by way of being "rigorously tested before going fully online."

"The centres that have been modernized and consolidated so far have been working very very successfully," he said.

As for the seven federal government employees that will be affected by the closure of the St. Anthony and St. John's MCTS centres, Lick said they — like all other displaced MCTS personnel — will be provided opportunities depending on the individual.

Those opportunities would include potentially moving to the new centres, moving into other areas of the coast guard or the public sector, a transition to positions outside the public sector or, in some cases, retirement.

Local knowledge questioned

One of the worries being raised by mariners in this province, like Rex Saunders of St. Lunaire who famously spent three days on the ice before being rescued by Coast Guard back in May 2009, is that not having actual live and experienced coast guard personnel in busy ports like St. John's and St. Anthony will result in a lack of local knowledge.

And they argue that could mean increased dangers for mariners.

Lick said live personnel will still be readily available to mariners, but they may be in different centres. As for local knowledge, he said coast guard is aware of that point and is taking steps to address it.

"The people that will still listen on the water for distress calls or help with navigation and so on, in some cases they may be the same people that they were listening to before — they're just at new centres," he said.

"The other aspect is that before a watchkeeper, an MCTS officer is fully given responsibility for a particular area they are given all the training that's required to be able to do that. As well as that they are familiarized through a training package with that particular area and then before they are given full responsibility for that area, they are fully checked out by people who know that area."

There were also concerns raised coast guard would change how it deploys vessels in areas where MCTS centres are being closed, and also what vessels might be available and when.

However, Lick said a changing fleet isn't anywhere near on the horizon.

"Over the years the deployment of the fleet will change over time, that's just a fact of life, but we have no current plan to change any of our … vessels that are on the water," said Lick.

He added the federal government is currently investing "multi billions" of dollars to improve and modernize its fleet, including some of the new mid-shore patrol and near-shore science vessels that have already been deployed in the region.

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