Nova Scotia

Latest search for missing N.S. fishing boat turns up nothing

The latest day of exhaustive searching for a fishing boat off the coast of Nova Scotia has turned up no evidence of the Miss Ally or the five fishermen who were aboard when it overturned in a storm.

George Hopkins says coast guard should never have left vessel

From hope to frustration

10 years ago
Duration 2:38
Grieving family members expressed anger today over how authorities have handled the search for 5 fishermen presumed dead in the waters off Nova Scotia

The latest day of exhaustive searching for a fishing boat off the coast of Nova Scotia has turned up no evidence of the Miss Ally or the five fishermen who were aboard when it overturned in a storm.

On Friday, a joint task force of Department of National Defence and Canadian Coast Guard crews launched an extensive search for any visible debris of the capsized vessel.

RCMP Cpl. Scott MacRae said more flights over the search area will take place on Saturday.

"I would like to thank our partners at the Department of National Defence and Canadian Coast Guard who have supported the RCMP in our effort to locate the Miss Ally. This has been an exhaustive collaborative effort involving multiple aircrafts, marine vessels and support and information from local fishers," said RCMP Supt. Sylvie Bourassa-Muise.

"Having spent the last several days with the families and members of the community, I know what a tremendous loss this is for Woods Harbour. On behalf of RCMP and Department of National Defence and Canadian Coast Guard, we express our sincerest condolences to the families."

George Hopkins said Friday that official search crews may have needlessly lost track of the Miss Ally, which capsized sometime last Sunday with five men on board.

Hopkins, whose 27-year-old son Joel is among the missing fishermen, conceded that the coast guard may not have been able to search inside the 13.5-metre fishing boat, but it could have kept an eye on it.

George Hopkins, father of Joel Hopkins, said this image captured by the U.S. Coast Guard is not a life-raft but the overturned hull of the Miss Ally. (U.S. Coast Guard)

"They should have stayed there," he said from his home in Woods Harbour, N.S. "That was a big mistake, right there. You don't leave it, you leave someone by it."

Maj. Martell Thompson, spokesman for the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax, said once the search was called off Tuesday at 6 p.m., the navy and coast guard pulled away from the area.

"We don't do recovery, we do search and rescue," Thompson said in an interview, adding that the RCMP was in charge the moment the search ended.

"The JRCC, search and rescue, we focus on saving lives, not assets."

He said if the RCMP had decided to recover the upturned Miss Ally, they would have to hire a private salvage company to do so.

In a conference call on Friday from Brussels, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said there will be a review of the Canadian Forces response to the incident.

"I know, having grown up in Atlantic Canada, that these tragedies are devastating for the families and for the entire community," MacKay said. "And so all efforts were made with respect to both the search and rescue in the early stages, and now we are working with other agencies to do what we can to support the families."

Debris spotted, vessel was not

Three aircraft patrolled the area of the Miss Ally's last known position Thursday morning and afternoon, following a plea from the families of the missing men to continue the search for the boat and attempt to recover bodies.

Several aircraft went back out over the area Friday morning, and the William Alexander patrolled the area, more than 100 kilometres southeast of Liverpool, all day Friday.

A Canadian Armed Forces CC-130 Hercules aircraft joined aircraft from Transport Canada and Newfoundland-based Provincial Airlines to patrol an area measuring more than 1,700 square kilometres on Thursday, said RCMP.

There was no sighting of the overturned hull of the boat that had last been spotted by the Canadian Coast Guard at 4:26 p.m. on Wednesday. The RCMP said a small debris field was spotted about 10 nautical miles east of the Miss Ally's last known position, and the combined location and concentration of the debris meant it likely came from the boat.

Hopkins was critical of the initial efforts to find a life-raft believed to be on board, insisting that an infrared photo taken by the U.S. Coast Guard of an object on the surface was Miss Ally's hull, not a life-raft.

"There was no raft, there never was," Hopkins said. "They wasted a lot of time looking for a raft that wasn't there, I think."

This is some of the debris that search crews believe likely came from the Miss Ally. (RCMP)

Hopkins told CBC News on Friday morning that it's too soon to conclude the Miss Ally has sunk and he's waiting until a private vessel with divers arrives at the last known location of the overturned boat.

"You're going to have some debris, I mean, you've got lots of things on deck," he said. "If they've seen parts of the hull, well that would be different."

In current weather conditions, it could take about 30 hours for a private vessel to reach the area, he said.

That private fishing boat left Ecum Secum, on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore, on Thursday and headed toward the Miss Ally with four divers on board.

Concern for private vessels

The head of the RCMP in southwestern Nova Scotia said she's worried about the safety of fishermen on private vessels trying their own recovery of the missing boat.

"Certainly that remains our concern here for the safety of those brave fishers going out there on their own," Bourassa-Muise told CBC News on Friday.

There has been no sign of the five young fishermen who were aboard the Miss Ally. (Facebook)

"We hope that they're all right but that information as to where they're at, that's not trickling back to us and that gives me great concern. I can appreciate their frustration and wanting just to help out and going out to scene in support of the families, but their safety right now is of concern to me."

Bourassa-Muise said RCMP have set up a mobile command post in Woods Harbour, where the missing men lived, and expect to be there for at least the next two days.

"Our focus remains with the family here in Woods Harbour and providing their needs and that includes providing them with as much information that we have on the recovery efforts," she said.

"It will be here as long as it takes. There's two facets to our mission here. One is a recovery effort and the other one is to be here in support of the families."

Men left port on Feb. 12

The formal search for Hopkins, Billy Jack Hatfield, Katlin Nickerson, Steven Cole Nickerson and Tyson Townsend was called off Tuesday night after officials concluded there was little hope any of the men would have survived the rough seas and cold water.

RCMP are now handling it as a missing persons case.

Family members of the fishermen have been pleading their case to have the boat searched before it sinks to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Several of them believe the crew, who left Cape Sable Island on Feb. 12 to go fishing for halibut, may have been trapped inside the wheelhouse on the Miss Ally when it overturned in 10-metre waves while being whipped by winds.

The military has said the Miss Ally's emergency locator beacon — which typically activates when it hits salt water — transmitted a signal on Sunday night about 120 kilometres southeast of Liverpool.

There were no distress calls broadcast from the vessel's crew before the beacon went off, the navy said.

With files from the Canadian Press