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Charges laid against skipper who allegedly tried to kill crew

Aug 01 2012
The fishingboat Opal T, from which two were rescued. 

The fishingboat Opal T, from which two were rescued.

Photograph by: Handout

Charges have been laid against the skipper who allegedly threatened to kill his crew while armed with a shotgun Sunday night, sparking a dramatic highseas rescue.

Karl Darwin Keith Thomas, 49, of Courtenay, has been charged with assault with a weapon (a knife), uttering threats, pointing a firearm and careless use of a firearm.

Many people in the Port Hardy and Courtenay fishing communities said they know Thomas by his middle name, Keith.

Thomas is a third-generation fisherman who operates the Opal T, the 10-metre gill net fishing boat from which two crew members were rescued Sunday night.

About 8: 30 p.m. that night, a 26-year-old woman called RCMP from the boat in Browning Passage, near Pine Island, alleging that Thomas, high on cocaine, had assaulted her and a 21-year-old male crew member and was threatening to kill them.

She said the man was armed with knives and a loaded shotgun, which was discharged at least once into the air.

The pair were forced to seek refuge on the roof of the boat, waiting as darkness approached, until an RCMP boat came to their rescue 2 1 /2 hours later. They leapt onto the bow of the RCMP boat because the skipper refused to stop or head for shore. The pair were not seriously injured but shaken up.

The skipper finally surrendered and was escorted by a Port McNeill RCMP boat to the government docks, where an RCMP tactical team was awaiting to assist with the arrest.

Thomas was held in custody and briefly appeared in Port Hardy provincial court Tuesday morning. He was remanded until a bail hearing in Campbell River this morning.

Thomas has three adult children, Darrell, Chelsea and Samantha, who have all worked in the fishing industry.

Friends said Chelsea, 26, and her boyfriend sometimes helped on the Opal T. RCMP Island district spokesman Cpl. Darren Lagan would not comment on the relationship of the crew members to the skipper.

Lagan said the two victims, of Courtenay, gave their statements to police and were sent home. Thomas's father is prominent Port Hardy businessman Karl Thomas Sr., who owns the Quarterdeck Inn, Quarterdeck Marine Industries and the fishing company Al-Ke Enterprises.

Karl Thomas Sr. did not return calls for comment. There was no answer at a number listed as belonging to Karl Thomas.

A harbourmaster at the Comox Harbour Authority said the younger Thomas had docked the Opal T and his other boat, Al-Ke II, at the harbour for more than 25 years.

Rob Clarke, who works at the Comox Harbour Authority, said Thomas would regularly sell fresh fish from his boat when it was moored in the harbour.

"He had a strong clientele with local buyers for his halibut," Clarke said.

Clarke said most of the fishermen knew Thomas but others commented it wasn't always for positive encounters.

One retired Courtenay fisherman said Thomas was known for his aggressive, "hot-headed" behaviour, both in the fishing industry and in his personal life.

Thomas made headlines in 1995 when he led a protest against native fishermen being allowed to fish before commercial fishermen in the Fraser River.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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