While a rally is planned for May 6 in Vancouver to protest the federal government's closure of Coast Guard Marine Communication and Traffic Services centres along the coast, staffers have resorted to using Post-It notes to track traffic when radar screens go blank due to outages.
At the newly-combined Prince Rupert MCTS, Coast Guard staffers responsible for the coast from the Alaska border all the way down to Tofino and Ucluelet are having to go low-tech during outages.
â€œThey have ended up using Post-it notes to put on computer displays, they write the name of the ship and information about it on a blank radar screen and move them around,â€ said Allan Hughes, regional director Unifor Local 2182.
The use of stickies to track vessels isn't new - what's different is that there's not the MCTS at Amphitrite Point in Ucluelet as a back-up when the system goes down somewhere else, Hughes said.
â€œI am serious ... This is the management approved back up when radar, transponders fail. This is the software the Coast Guard has used for 4 years (cost over $30 million) now to regulate marine shipping."
This alert went out to mariners early Monday, when services were offline for a couple hours:
â€œP-0463(2015) PRINCE RUPERT MCTS - WCVI - NORTH COAST- OFFSHORE WATERS. Activated:0356 27 Apr 2015Prince Rupert MCTS Vessel Traffic Services operating at a reduced capacity. AIS and radar monitoring services are out of service until further notice. Mariners are to make all necessary calls at calling in points.â€
â€œThey could talk to ships, but they had no way of tracking them,â€ Hughes said.
There have been multiple outages, including a complete outage last week for 40 minutes, Hughes said.
The problem, he said, is that there isnâ€™t a back-up.
â€œTheyâ€™ve reduced or eliminated the redundancy .. Now, if itâ€™s Prince Rupert out, Tofino is also out. If Tofino was still in operation, it could still track ships on West Coast of Island and the approaches to Juan de Fuca,â€ he said.
The rally is set for noon next Wednesday, May 6, at the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station at the eastern foot of Whyte Ave. in Vancouver, the rally is being organized by Unifor, the union that serves the Coast Guard. NDP candidates for MP who have promised restoration of the MCTS centres - including the one at Amphitrite Point - are expected at the rally, he said.
There was no fanfare at the Ucluelet Coast Guard office at Amphitrite Point Tuesday, April 21 at 8 a.m. on the morning of the â€œchangeoverâ€ of service to the newly-reinforced Prince Rupert MCTS communication centre.
There was just the sound of 25,725 km of coastline, 40,000 islands, 254 cruise ships, 139 million tonnes of cargo, 16,758 vessels making 213,700 trips in a year â€“ and the plug being pulled on all but two Coast Guard stations on the West Coast.
The federal government has promised that smooth and safe service will continue from Prince Rupert (for Tofino/Ucluelet/the West Coast of Vancouver Island) and Victoria (for the east coast of Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
While a Coast Guard helicopter prepared to ferry technicians to the top of Mt. Ozzard and other points to make the disconnect and transfer communications to Prince Rupert, Gord Johns worked on galvanizing the West Coast over the issue.
Running against Conservative caucus whip John Duncan for what is expected to be a hotly contested Courtenay-Alberni riding, NDP candidate Johns said he wants to know why Duncan, a former Ucluetian, voted Monday against an NDP motion to stop the closure of Coast Guard services in Ucluelet.
â€œOn Monday night John Duncan and every Conservative MP from BC voted against the chance to restore Coast Guard services and stop further cuts,â€ the Tofino resident said after the vote in the House of Commons.
â€œToday, the Marine Communication and Traffic Services Centre in Ucluelet is set to close. This is especially disappointing because this vital service is located in the very riding Mr. Duncan hopes to represent after the next election.â€
As the Harper governmentâ€™s chief whip, â€œMr. Duncan not only voted against restoring Coast Guard services but actually enforced a â€˜noâ€™ vote from all of the BC Conservative MPs,â€ John said.
NDP Fisheries and Oceans critic Fin Donnelly called for the federal government to reopen the Marine Communication and Traffic Services Centre in Ucluelet, reopen the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver, and halt plans to close more Coast Guard services in Comox and Vancouver.
â€œThe delayed response and poor communications surrounding the recent oil spill in Vancouver Harbour demonstrated just how dangerous it is to cut these services,â€ said Johns.