Search and rescue advocate searches for a way back in

HALIFAX, NS – Roughly 60 industry stakeholders are attending the Atlantic Seal Advisory Meeting at the Lord Nelson in Halifaxto discuss the 2012 Seal Management Plan.  Merv Wiseman, a shop steward for Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Search and Rescue Coordinators and a member of the Canadian Sealers Association, has been told he won’t be welcome at the second day of the proceedings today.

Wiseman is a key advocate in the fight to save the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centres in St. John’sand Quebec City.  He had hoped to address the issue on today’s agenda.

“The sealing industry is one of the most dangerous in the world,” says Wiseman.  “Ice conditions off the East coast of Newfoundlandand Labradorcreate a very volatile harvesting environment for seal hunters.”

Sealers attending the event also want the matter discussed.  Wiseman hopes the organizers will reconsider.

Just three weeks ago, the Canadian Coast Guard revealed that the shut-downs of the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centres in St. John’sand Quebec Citywould be accelerated.  The St. John’scentre is slated to close on April 1, 2012.

“This is terrible news for industry workers.  The sealers I have talked to here agree.” says Wiseman. “Ottawa needs to understand that the North Atlanticis nothing like the Rideau Canal.  This decision seriously jeopardizes the only lifeline they have at sea.”

Like all of his colleagues at the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’s, Wiseman has been involved in countless rescues. He was key in the dramatic rescue of three Makkovik sealers when their boat capsized off of Cape Harrison, Labrador, in June 2011.

The Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John’salone coordinates rescues throughout an area spanning more than 900,000 square kilometers of ocean and 28,956 kilometers of coastline.  It answers more than 500 distress calls a year.

The closures will eliminate the jobs of 12 rescue coordinators in St. John’sand 9 in Quebec City. The Halifax Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre will lose 6 positions.  Search and Rescue for Newfoundlandand Labradorwill be centralized at the Joint Rescue Coordination Center Halifax. 

“Countless studies and inquiries into maritime tragedies have concluded that these Sub-Centres are essential. Only these staff people have the local knowledge and expertise that save lives” says Wiseman, “None of that has changed.”

Wiseman is not alone in this fight. He is backed by the MayDay NL Coalition established to bring together stakeholders, unions and concerned citizens who reject the closure.  The coalition is demanding an independent review of the federal government’s decision before the centres are shut down this spring.

The cuts are part of the 2010 Budget review which mandated $56.8 million in cuts at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard.

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Contact Lesley Thompson, PSAC Communications, 902-471-6201