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UFAWU's Letter on the Fixed-Wing Crisis

Following news that the Royal Canadian Air Force recently retired its Buffalo search-and-rescue planes from service without a replacement craft implemented, UFAWU-Unifor Vice President Helen-Anne Beans penned a letter of protest on behalf of the Union and BC harvesters. Read the letter below:

Dear Mario Pelletier, 

It has been brought to the attention of UFAWU-Unifor that with the retirement of CC-115 Buffalo aircraft, there will not be a fixed-wing SAR aircraft stationed full-time on the West Coast of Canada to aid in marine rescues. We understand that the CC-295 Kingfisher aircraft that were to be operational by 2021 were delayed to Summer 2022 and that this projected timeline could be extended again to 2024 or 2025 due to technical concerns that require further qualification work on the new aircraft. 

Meanwhile, the absence of this critical component of the SAR system significantly increases risk of marine-related fatalities. With the current plan to call in a Cormorant SAR aircraft from Winnipeg, Manitoba on a case-by-case basis, we question whether due consideration has been given to how much critical time would lapse before that aircraft could attend an emergency on the West Coast. Men, women, and children trying desperately to stay alive in frigid water after their vessel has capsized will not have time on their side.  

The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue dictates that “Parties to the Convention are required to ensure that arrangements are made for the provision of adequate SAR services in their coastal waters.”  

Emergencies happen without warning and across every season. Whether it is a statistically high-tempo period of vessel activity or not, things can turn from bad to worse in moments. The plan to have a fixed-wing SAR aircraft stationed temporarily only during the Summer while awaiting the new aircraft is cold comfort for those at sea in Winter, Spring and Fall.  

In the case of an abandon ship order, it will be impossible for the Cormorant to deploy illumination flares to help find MOB (man overboard) because there is a risk of the flare parachute being sucked into the rotor blades. This makes it nearly impossible to recover MOB after dark. 

The February 15, 2022, sinking of a Spanish fishing vessel off the coast of Newfoundland is a stark reminder of the importance of SAR aircraft and their ability to be ready and available at any moment, at all times of year. 

Without a fixed-wing aircraft servicing the coastal waters of Western Canada, fish harvesters, pleasure boaters, marine transport mariners, and seaplane crew and passengers are at heightened risk when there’s a vessel or seaplane in distress. It is intolerable that harvesters’ and mariners’ lives are being put at risk by the decision to go without adequate SAR aircraft. 

We need immediate action to solve this problem. The lives of mariners are at risk. 

Thank you, 

Helen-Anne Beans,

UFAWU-Unifor Vice President

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