BC premier Christy Clark held a press conference in Tofino on Tuesday to speak to Sunday’s tragic whale-watching catastrophe that took the lives of at least five of the 27 passengers onboard the Leviathan II.
The 65-foot vessel capsized near Vargas Island and emergency responders, including volunteer rescue crews from Ahousaht, raced to save as many lives as they could, pulling 21 survivors out of the water.
“I’m here today with this incredible community who has stepped up in a moment of crisis and really demonstrated the true sprit of British Columbia,” Clark said.
“We should be, if I could speak on behalf of everybody in the province, incredibly proud of the people who live here.”
She said she plans to nominate Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne and Ahousaht Chief Greg Louie for citizenship awards on behalf of their communities.
“The Ahousaht First Nation, the people of Tofino, the people who know this coast so well, when there was a crisis, when there were lives at risk, people here stepped up and stepped in and saved lives,” she said.
“We have just established a citizenship award in British Columbia and it’s not the normal thing but I’m going to be nominating the Chief of the Ahousaht First Nation and the mayor of Tofino to accept some of the first citizenship awards that will be awarded and to present to these communities that have done so much and really demonstrated courage and decisiveness and really a sprit of self-sacrifice and caring.”
Clark said she was “horrified,” and “ heartbroken” when she heard about the devastating disaster but was awed to see the communities’ collective response.
“I felt the tragic heartbreak that I think all of us felt,” she said. “As the story emerged about how British Columbians and the people here stepped up, I have to say I felt really, really, proud to be a British Columbian.”
During the conference’s question period, Clark was asked if BC’s First Nations are provided with enough emergency response resources.
Clark said the province is ready to provide more and noted BC is the only province in Canada with a minister solely responsible for emergency management.
“I would say, based on what we saw on Sunday night, the Ahousaht First Nation didn’t miss a beat. They were as ready as you can be and we should be so thankful and so proud of the way that they stepped in,” Clark said.
“First Nations on this coast have been fishing it for millennia. Nobody knows this water better than they do…If they need more help, if they want more training, we will be there to help them do that. That’s part of the program that we’ve established with Minister (Naomi) Yamamoto.”
Clark said she had spoken with Ahousaht Chief Greg Louie and thanked Ahousaht for its heroic efforts
“More lives would have been lost if not for the Ahousaht First Nation and the people who stepped up, not because they were told to but because they knew it was the right thing to do,” she said. “We are all incredibly grateful to them for what they did.”
The Leviathan II was the largest vessel owned by local whale watching company Jamie’s Whaling Station.
The passengers onboard were reportedly not wearing lifejackets when the vessel capsized and the company’s owner Jamie Bray told reporters on Monday that wearing them is not required on large covered vessels.
Clark acknowledged there have been questions about whether to make lifejackets mandatory on all vessels but said she would wait for a Transportation Safety Board of Canada report of Sunday’s disaster before making any suggestions.
“I’m not going to recommend that government change that and make it mandatory today. I think we need to understand what happened in this incident and then we can have a rational and a really thoughtful response to it,” she said.
One passenger remained unaccounted for Wednesday morning.