Nova Scotia

How some coast guard ships stayed tied up when they could have been at work

Nova Scotia-based coast guard ships were tied up 151 days when weather was "within operational parameters," according to documents obtained by CBC News.

Vessels tied up for 151 days when weather was 'within operational parameters,' document says

Nova Scotia-based coast guard ships tied up 91 per cent of the time when weather was 'within operational parameters,' according to documents obtained by CBC News. (David Horemans/CBC)

There is more evidence suggesting Canadian coast guard mid-shore patrol vessels are a fair-weather fleet.

Documents obtained by CBC News show that during a one-year period, two mid-shore patrol vessels based in Nova Scotia were tied up for 151 days in weather conditions when they were supposed to be operable.

Last month, CBC revealed the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is looking at installing stabilizers — blades that counteract the motion of waves — on its nine coast guard mid-shore vessels. This followed widespread complaints from crew about excessive rolling at sea.

Michael Grace, DFO's offshore surveillance supervisor, looked at sea conditions during the 165 days when two mid-shore vessels based in Nova Scotia were in port or anchored — from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018.

His briefing table on the "probabilities the vessels were being anchored based on wind speeds and sea conditions" was released to CBC under the Access to Information Act.

"The vessels frequently did not operate in winds in excess of 20 knots, sea states under 2 metres," the table compiled by Grace states.

In March 2018, the Dartmouth-based supervisor delivered the presentation at a joint management meeting of officials with the Canadian Coast Guard and DFO in Vancouver.

DFO official studies wind speed, sea state

The vessels, which are 42 metres long and seven metres wide, are known as the Hero class since each is named after an exemplary military, RCMP, coast guard or DFO officer.

The mid-shore patrol vessels are based on both the east and west coasts of Canada.

According to minutes of the meeting, Grace looked at wind speeds and sea conditions when the CCGS G Peddle and CCGS Corporal McLaren were ashore.

"The reported weather and sea state condition outlined in the table indicates that up to 91.5% of the in port/anchored time occurred within the stated operating parameters of the MSVP."

For primary missions in the Atlantic, like fishery patrols, the vessel is expected to sail in what is known as Sea State 5, which is three-metre seas and winds averaging 24 knots.

According to the table, "28.6% of the port/anchored time took place in weather conditions with winds of less than 20 knots and a sea state of 0.5 to 2.0 metres."

Union: fishery officers 'extremely frustrated'

Scott Mossman is a senior compliance officer for the fisheries department in Dartmouth, N.S. He also serves as a local representative of the United Health and Environment Workers.

He declined to comment directly on the Grace report but says he has heard similar complaints about downtime from the fishery officers who serve on board the ships.

"They are extremely frustrated when they are in port while fishing activity is taking place. For example, fishing vessels of 45 feet or less are at sea when they are tied alongside," Mossman told CBC News.

Mossman said the vessels have other limitations.

"These vessels are not conducive to hauling and resetting gear for officers to conduct inspections.

"In some cases the gear can be hauled but cannot be reset properly, so in order not to destroy legal fishing efforts officers do not do as many gear compliance checks as they would like."

DFO: Ship at anchor is not idle

DFO defended the ships in an emailed response two days after this story was first published.

The CCGS Corporal McLaren is shown in 2016. DFO's offshore surveillance supervisor looked at wind speeds and sea conditions when the CCGS Corporal McLaren and another ship were ashore. (Canadian Coast Guard)

"The mid-shore patrol vessels are highly capable patrol vessels that are safe and able to handle challenging sea states," said spokesperson Luc Galton.

Galton said the ships operate 10 months of the year — two months longer than originally planned.

"Operating over more than three seasons per year requires capability in a vast range of weather conditions and sea states. When these ships are needed for enforcement, they are able to deliver," he wrote.

"Further, it is important to note that when a ship is at anchor or alongside it does not mean that it is inactive or non-operational — the vessel is still available to respond to tasks such as search and rescue, as an example."

Frustration level high over other safety concerns

Grace was one of 24 participants at the Vancouver meeting.

So was Fred Emeneau, commanding officer of the the CCGS Peddle.

In the minutes, Emeneau said "G. Peddle was not used a lot due to sea conditions" during the 2017/2018 season.

But downtime was not the only concern raised.

Minutes reflect repeated complaints about the deployment of the rigid-hull inflatable boats carried on board the mid-shore vessels.

Brent Napier, DFO'S chief of enforcement operations, said in the minutes: "After discussing the same problem for several years, the frustration level is high.

"C&P Senior management and Regions are very concerned by long standing issue and ask that a solution be found as soon as possible to mitigate safety concerns."

The minutes refer to the risk of a foot getting caught or struck by metal bars when the inflatable boats are being launched or retrieved.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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