Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre reopens amid applause

It's been six years, but the Canadian Coast Guard's Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's has officially reopened.

Conservatives closed centre in 2012 — Liberals promised reopening in 2015

Construction continues on the new Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre building on Southside Road in St. John's. (Katie Breen/CBC)

It's been six years, but the Canadian Coast Guard's Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's has officially reopened.

The centre was shut down in 2012, as part of $56 million in Department of Fisheries and Oceans cuts in Newfoundland and Labrador, but the federal Liberals made reopening the centre a campaign promise in the 2015 federal election.

"This facility plays a vital role in one of the world's safest marine rescue systems, and every day its members go to work to ensure the safety of mariners and our marine environment, and we simply can't thank them enough for their service," said St. John's East MP Nick Whalen to applause at a ceremony in the centre's Southside Road location.

Construction of a new building for the centre continues.

Hiring began day after announcement made

While the official reopening ceremony was Friday, the centre has been operating for two and a half weeks already, with 23 calls during that time.

Wade Spurrell, assistant commissioner of the Coast Guard for Atlantic Canada, said the St. John's facility will co-ordinate search-and-rescue operations with Halifax's Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

You don't take someone off the street or off the bridge of a ship and put them in a co-ordination centre.- Wade Spurrell

"Depending on the type of incident, it could be co-ordinated out of here, or if there's a need for air assets, it could be co-ordinated out of JRCC," he said.

"So we have the capacity to move information quickly between centres, to share information so there's no loss of situational awareness between the controllers."

Spurrell said hiring for the new centre began the day after the announcement was made.

"You don't take someone off the street or off the bridge of a ship and put them in the co-ordination centre," he said.

"[There's] a lot of training to get people ready, ensuring the technology works. It's not a system that you want someone to get a busy signal. It's not a system you want somebody to get directed to the wrong place."

Veterans' Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan took aim at the previous federal government for shutting the sub-centre down.

"When the Harper government closed this facility six years ago, we were all, in this province, rightly concerned about our safety, the safety of the men and women that we know work on the ocean."

O'Regan noted there are roughly 375 search-and-rescue incidents in any given year in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is why it was so important for the sub-centre to reopen.

Shea Heights fishermen lost

"Proximity is time, and time is everything on the water," he said, before invoking the names of four Shea Heights fishermen lost at sea in September 2016 — Eugene Walsh, Keith Walsh, Keith Walsh, Jr., and Billy Humby — and talking about the people of the St. John's neighbourhood gathering down by the harbour every day as the search went on.

"And when we knew we had to give up the search, and when the women and men of the Canadian Coast Guard came back in this harbour, to hear those cars down here, to hear people clapping for the effort, to hear the horns honking for the effort, what a moment that was."

now