Loss of key coast guard tool putting lives at risk on B.C. coast, former officer says

Click to play video: 'Coast Guard search ability questioned in B.C.'
Coast Guard search ability questioned in B.C.
WATCH: A retired Coast Guard official is sounding the alarm about the loss of a vital tool while responding to rescue calls. He says there's a lack of radio direction-finding systems on the West Coast. As Paul Johnson reports, that could put lives at risk. – Nov 16, 2023

A retired coast guard official is sounding the alarm about the loss of a key tool for responding to rescue calls on the west coast.

Fred Moxey is the former superintendent of B.C.’s coast guard stations, and says the loss of a capability known as “radio direction finding” has degraded the service’s ability to find boats in distress.

His comments come after two recent fatal incidents.

Click to play video: 'Rescue Coordination Centre investigates distress call off Vancouver beach'
Rescue Coordination Centre investigates distress call off Vancouver beach

On Oct. 23, the Coast Guard was called to rescue a man whose tug boat had capsized in the waters near UBC’s Point Grey campus. They were unable to locate him and his body washed ashore.

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Just days earlier, two mariners went missing on a trawler departing Texada island. The Coast Guard was unable to find that vessel either. One man’s body has been located, while the other remains missing.

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“The sad thing about those two incidents is it might have been a different outcome,” Moxey said.

Radio direction finding is an old but reliable technique where the source of a radio signal, such as a boat in distress, can be located by triangulating between multiple antennas.

Click to play video: 'Keeping our shores safe: RCMP West Coast Marine Services'
Keeping our shores safe: RCMP West Coast Marine Services

The U.S. Coast Guard told Global News it still maintains robust direction finding capabilities, but front line rescuers say B.C. now has a massive blind spot from Vancouver to Campbell River — one of Canada’s busiest waterways.

“If we don’t have a fixed position to go we’re searching in the blind,” Moxey said. “I don’t care if it’s a million dollars a tower, it’s got to be fixed.”

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In a statement, the Canadian Coast Guard said its direction finding system has fallen into disrepair. The service said it was in the early stages of a years-long replacement project, and that it has several other capabilities available to mariners in distress.

The statement raises questions about why, if such a critical tool was offline, mariners — who may have invested in other lifesaving equipment — weren’t informed.

Moxey said he remains concerned the lack of capacity will result in another tragedy.

“This is going to happen again, maybe tonight, tomorrow, on the weekend,” he said.

“And it’s not acceptable to do that.”

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