A candle-lit vigil was held at Tofino’s First Street Dock on June 21 in honour of three missing Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation fishermen whose vessel sank near Duffin Cove on June 15. (Photo - Nora O’Malley)

Vancouver Island First Nation seeks answers in search for missing fishermen

“The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation anticipate the RCMP will complete a full investigation.”

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation is searching for answers behind the disappearance of three key role models in their community.

Marcel Martin, Carl Michael and Terrance Brown Jr. have been missing since their fishing vessel sank near Tofino on June 15.

“Countless hours have been spent searching and supporting the search efforts since the incident occurred,” read a statement released by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation early Monday evening. “The efforts have been oriented around ensuring extensive coverage of the entire Clayoquot Sound area on land, water and by air, with many areas being covered multiple times a day.”

Five people were on the vessel when it sank near Duffin Point around 3 a.m.. Two made it safely to shore.

“The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation anticipate the RCMP will complete a full investigation of the incident that will hopefully be able to answer many of the remaining questions,” the Nation said through the statement.

Tla-o-qui-aht Executive Assistant Connor Paone told the Westerly News on Tuesday that many questions remain unanswered.

“Right now, there’s not a lot that we know about the incident. We know that the men were out, the boat sank, two people that were not from here were recovered and our three men are missing,” he said. “The Nation and the families don’t have a lot of closure, because all we know now is that the boat sank and that the men are missing. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions…We’re really pushing for, and hoping for, a full investigation that has a lot of answers.”

Police located the vessel on June 19.

The vessel belonged to Marcel Martin, an extremely well-respected fishermen and role model within the Tla-o-qui-aht community and key advocate for Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations’ fishing rights. His valiant rescue efforts during the 2015 Leviathan II whale watching disaster earned him a medal from the Lifesaving Society B.C. Yukon.

“The captain of the boat knew his boat very well and knew the capacity of what that boat was,” Paone said adding all three of the missing men are seasoned fishers with vast local knowledge of the ocean.

“They know the waters like the back of their hand. They’ve been on the waters since they were young boys. They know every little nook and cranny of the area. So, what led to the boat sinking and flipping, or however it sank, is a really big mystery and that’s what people are looking for to get some closure…It’s a total surprise that the boat would have sank.”

He added it is not unusual for West Coast fishers to be on the water in the early morning hours and that Martin had gear on the water at the time.

“At the time that it sank, there was still fishing gear that he had out in the ocean that, at some point, he was hoping to go retrieve. Whether he was on his way out to retrieve that or whether he was on his way back in and chose not to retrieve it due to the capacity of his boat; those are examples of the unanswered questions that, when they’re answered, might help to give some closure to the families.”

He said the search for the men is ongoing.

“Our fishermen, and other people that are out searching right now, have searched every nook and cranny of all of Clayoquot Sound, and they also know it very well. They’ve found gear. They’ve found articles of clothing and floats, but what they haven’t found is the men themselves,” he said.

“The searchers are optimistic and strong and their working really hard to get the best possible result…The hardest part about it is that these men were very key members of our community. They were role models in being successful young men and being successful fishermen. They were also involved in the culture as well and all three of them were dads so, of course, that’s very difficult to put words on.”

Anyone wanting to join the search effort is encouraged to contact Elmer Frank at elmer.frank@telus.net or 250-726-8281.

“The families and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation have received fantastic support by means of volunteers, financial donations and in-kind donations throughout the search efforts,” the Nation said through Monday’s statement. “We would like to thank all the individuals involved in this effort, as well as the District of Tofino and the many local businesses and organizations.”

A GoFundMe page was launched by Carla Moss last week to support the families of the missing men.

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