Second major Coast Guard communications outage in three days

WATCH: That 18 minute Coast Guard radio blackout over the May long weekend was just one of three outages in the same service area in recent days. John Daly reports.

For the second time in three days, the communication system for the Coast Guard in Canada’s busiest waterway had an extended malfunction.

“There was a loaded tug and barge with 86,000 barrels of diesel and gasoline going through the Port of Vancouver, and was not being given traffic advisers of which shipping he may meet when he transits through Second and First Narrows,” says Allan Hughes, Western Director for Unifor 2182.

The outage was on Victoria Coast Guard Radio Marine Communications Channel 16 at 6 a.m. today. It’s used to transmit messages to mariners in the waters as far north as Nanaimo, and as far west as Port Renfrew. It followed an 18 minute outage last Monday, a recent two minute outage – and there were three more brief outages this afternoon, according to the union.

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READ MORE: Coast Guard communication centre has blackout at end of long weekend

“It’s very alarming to hear there are radio outages with the Coast Guard. It underscores why people in Vancouver are so concerned about the cuts to Coast Guard, to marine communications,” says Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

“When we’re the biggest port in Canada and we have equipment failures like this, it’s totally unacceptable.”

Hughes says the blackouts are due to the Victoria station handling a much higher volume of calls since the closures of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station, theVancouver Marine Communications and Traffic Service Centre, and the centre in Ucluelet.

“The old technology they’re relying on was not designed in Victoria to handle this much communications traffic and subsequently those servers failed,” he said earlier this week.

But Greg Lick, Director of General Operations in the Victoria communications centre, says the outages are due to older equipment undergoing upgrades.

“These outages are not uncommon with older technologies, if you look at your phones, sometimes you get phones that get out of order. What we do have in place are procedures to deal with those outages,” says Lick.

Those plans include other Coast Guard centres responding to calls and directly calling the centre, and technicians on hand to fix the problem, as they did today. And Lick pledges that upgrades, when fully implemented, will improve the situation.

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“That new modernized technology will give us a more reliable system, and a more efficient system for operations to deal with the workload.”

Hughes isn’t swayed.

“Our officers may hear that distress call…but they’re not going to be able to react and respond in the manner to which they were trained.”

For his part, Mayor Robertson has had a consistent stance.

“In Canada’s busiest port, we need the cuts reversed.”

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