VANCOUVER - Two people may be safe after a fishing boat sank off Vancouver, but the incident has reignited debate about marine-rescue response times after the closure of a coast guard station.
The rescue on Wednesday morning in the frigid waters of Georgia Strait, off Point Grey, occurred just two weeks after Fisheries and Oceans Canada shuttered the Kitsilano Canadian Coast Guard station.
Opponents, including politicians and the city's police and fire chiefs, have argued the decision will put the public at risk because of longer response times.
Dane Bate, a spokesman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said a hovercraft from Richmond, B.C.'s Sea Island took about 23 minutes to arrive on scene after Wednesday's incident.
Bate would not speculate on how long it would have taken for a vessel to arrive from the now-closed Kitsilano base.
But Dave Clark of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees said help would have arrived within 10 minutes.
"Thank God these people actually survived," he said. "But we would have had a quicker save and maybe not the complications."
A mayday call from the fishing boat first went out at about 5:15 a.m., according to the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria.
Numerous coast guard, RCMP and commercial boats raced to the scene, and the first to arrive was a tugboat — but not before the fishing boat sank and its crew members entered the water.
The coast guard's hovercraft arrived minutes later and picked up the two crew members who were treated for hypothermia, said agency spokesman John Milman.
Bate said the coast guard became aware of an oil slick after the boat sank.
"We understand the vessel has some diesel fuel onboard," he said. "We'll be working with environmental response from coast guard on that particular issue, and then next steps with the owner of the vessel."
Bate said he didn't know what caused the vessel to go down.
The federal government announced the closure of the Kitsilano station last spring due to budget cuts.
It was closed in February, earlier than anticipated, but followed two maritime exercises that tested a new search-and-rescue plan for Vancouver's harbour.
Gary Sidock, acting assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard's western region, said afterwards he recommended the closure of the station because there would be no increased risk to the public.
In addition to the inshore rescue station, a volunteer contingent of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue — formerly the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary — has agreed to relocate operations to an area on Burrard Inlet.
(The Canadian Press, CKNW)
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