4 saved as Wikima sinks in daring Coast Guard rescue

 

When the Wikima went down Wednesday night, it was a rescue within a matter of moments.

At the Coast Guard marine communications centre in Ucluelet, the mayday call came in on VHF channel 16 around 9 p.m. on Feb. 4.

“It was a call from a 36-foot wooden trawler, indicating that they were in difficulty in heavy seas, taking on water and disabled, and they advised there was four persons on board,” said Allan Hughes, regional director for Unifor Local 2182.

The operator of the vessel was unable to give an accurate GPS location of where they were and stopped responding to calls from the Coast Guard. 

The Ucluelet staff notified the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, who tasked the Cape Ann in Tofino to go find the boat. A Cormorant helicopter was dispatched from Comox.

Within an hour, the word came to the Coast Guard from Hesquiat harbour – the Wikima was still in difficulty and was in communication with Hesquiat on a different radio channel the Coast Guard didn’t have.

Through that information, the radio centre in Ucluelet was able to direct a 900-foot vessel, the North Star, to provide a lee for the distressed vessel – to basically act as a windbreak or breakwater so the seas weren’t as rough, Hughes said.

“The ship was unable to launch their own rescue boat off the ship due to the weather conditions,” he added. The sea state could have been up to five metres, Hughes estimated.

Based out of Tacoma, the North Star does a regular route between Alaska and Tacoma with loaded trucks for the northernmost state.

“The Cape Ann from Tofino arrived on scene 1 hour and 15 minutes from the time they departed,” Hughes said. “As they arrived on scene, the distressed vessel began to break up underneath the occupants. They were taken off by the Coast Guard lifeboat crew and saved.”

The broken Wikima sank “shortly thereafter” and the Cape Ann took the survivors to Ahousaht to be reunited with family, he said.

For more on this story, read this coming week’s Westerly News.