Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's search and rescue centre to reopen by 2018

The St. John's Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre will reopen within 18 months, Fisheries Minister Dominc LeBlanc says.
Fisheries Minister Dominc LeBlanc said on Monday night that his government is living up to an election promise. (CBC)

The St. John's Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre will reopen within 18 months.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Monday night that the federal government would restore the closed centre by 2018. The Coast Guard will also construct two new lifeboat stations in the province, and two new radars in Atlantic Canada.

"Our government is putting a number of concrete measures in place to strengthen our coast guard and enhance marine safety," LeBlanc said at a news conference in St. John's.

"We will have an enhanced capacity, an additional highly-trained, highly-skilled personnel ... from this new reopened maritime rescue sub-centre."

The search and rescue sub-centre in St. John's was closed due to federal budget cuts in 2011. The closure drew wide-spread criticism — from opposition politicians, from St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe, and from then premier Kathy Dunderdale.

Before it was closed, the centre responded to about 500 incidents in an average year.

'Welcome news': FFAW

​LeBlanc said Monday that the reopened centre will allow coast guard officials to respond to the unique and difficult maritime needs of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The two new lifeboat stations will be opened near Twillingate and Bay de Verde, and the St. Anthony lifeboat stationed will be refurbished.

In a statement, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union called the announcement "welcome news."

"Newfoundland and Labrador fish harvesters are pleased to see that the Liberal government is re-prioritizing safety," the group said in a press release.

Premier Dwight Ball also praised the decision.

"When you think of the oceans and the sea that surround this great's our reason for being who we are and where we are," he said.

"This is an announcement that we've been waiting for quite some time."

Ahead of last year's federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged he would reopen the rescue centre if he took office.

"This is a promise our government made to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and we are honouring that commitment here this evening," LeBlanc said.

Merv Wiseman was a long-time employee with the St. John's Maritime Search and Rescue Sub-centre and a outspoken advocate against its closure. He said the announcement on Monday "was like the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders." (CBC)

As soon as possible

LeBlanc said it could take up to 18 months to see the maritime search and rescue sub-centre fully reopened.

He explained the Coast Guard needs to do a lot of hiring, and send its new employees through a lot of training — which could include stints at the Canadian Coast Guard College and training at the Halifax centre — before the St. John's centre could be opened.

It's a similar story with the new lifeboat stations. LeBlanc said the funding is already available, and the Coast Guard is working to identify the exact locations of each station.

"Every week and every month that we're not progressing in our view is time wasted," he said.

With files from Jeremy Eaton