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Tofino and Comox marine-centre closings to take three years

May 26 2012

Closing the Tofino and Comox marine communication centres and moving staff to North Saanich will take three years and involve renovations to the facility, a Canadian Coast Guard official in Ottawa said Friday.

“It’s not being done overnight,” said Jody Thomas, the coast guard’s deputy commissioner of operations.

The closure of the two West Coast Marine Communications and Traffic Services stations was announced by the federal government last week. The Canadian Auto Workers, which represents the staff, says 77 jobs will be eliminated and up to 104 workers will have to move.

Victoria MCTS’s responsibilities will expand to include the waters surrounding Vancouver Island. Excluded are the busy shipping lanes near Vancouver.

“We decided we would do this slowly, with a chance to retrain the staff, test the number of people we need and do the workload analysis,” said Thomas on a conference call.

The coast guard is currently determining the increase in workload for Victoria and how many transferred staff will have jobs here.

“The jobs that will be lost … are generally of the supervisory level and management level,” said Thomas.

Along with renovations, a number of technological improvements will take place at the Victoria station, she said.

Victoria MCTS separated operationally from Vancouver MCTS in 1997 and moved to its facility at Patricia Bay on Dec. 14, 1999, according to the coast guard’s website.

It’s the newest MCTS centre in Canada and currently has an officer in charge, six supervisors, 24 MCTS officers, three technicians and one person doing administration support.

The station near Tofino opened on Jan. 2, 1978, and communicates mainly with foreign vessels. It has one officer in charge, 17 MCTS officers, five technicians and two administrative support workers.

The original station in Comox opened in 1908 and relied on a five-horsepower gas engine.

In 1994, the closure of a coast guard radio station at Alert Bay doubled the area of responsibility for MCTS Comox, encompassing Johnstone Straight, Queen Charlotte Strait and southern Queen Charlotte Sound.

It has one officer in charge, 11 MCTS officers and six supervisors.

The federal government has been criticized for its decision to close the Kitsilano coast guard station in Vancouver as part of budget cuts.

Thomas said the decision to close the Kitsilano station next spring was based on demand, noting the station responds to 200 maritime search and rescue calls each year.

“We do believe we can meet the demand of mariners in the Vancouver area and the surrounding area by [a] mix of resources,” said Thomas.

Nine calls for help were handled by the unit last weekend, a long weekend when many recreational boaters were on the water.

None of them were distress calls, said Thomas, “and there were no lives actually at stake. The coast guard is in the business of saving lives and we would not make decisions that would put mariners at increased risk.”

Mariners are required by law to help out other mariners in distress, Thomas pointed out.

The government plans to work with the volunteer-based coast guard auxiliary to look at ways it can take up the slack.

The Union of Canadian Transportation Employees has launched a campaign, which includes a Facebook page, to save the Kitsilano station.


— With a file from The Canadian Press