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Scallop dragger sinking: Another wave of grief hits Nova Scotia

Click to play video: 'Search continues for missing fishers off the coast of Nova Scotia' Search continues for missing fishers off the coast of Nova Scotia
The search for five missing scallop fishers continued Wednesday, as ground crews, aircraft and small vessels scoured the coast for any sign of the crew and the scallop dragger that sank Tuesday morning. Digby, NS resident David Stephens talked about the impact on the local community, while fellow scallop fisherman Kim Emino discussed his own personal search and rescue effort for the missing fishermen – Dec 16, 2020

After a year that has brought so much suffering to Nova Scotia, six families in a remote corner of the province are having to cope with fears of yet another loss following the sinking of a scallop dragger Tuesday.

The 15-metre Chief William Saulis sank in the Bay of Fundy near Delaps Cove, N.S., early on Tuesday morning, its emergency beacon alerting the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax just before 6 a.m.

The boat foundered northeast of Digby amid heaving, three-metre waves pushed by 40-kilometre-per-hour gusts and an unusually high tide. Searchers later found two empty life-rafts, some clothing and debris consistent with a sinking.

Read more: Searchers find body of crew member from scallop boat missing in Bay of Fundy

The body of one man was recovered late Tuesday, but the search continued Wednesday for five other men as ground search crews said they were seeking closure for the families.

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The company where the men worked, Yarmouth Sea Products, confirmed their names: Aaron Cogswell, Leonard Gabriel, Dan Forbes, Michael Drake and Geno Francis, and captain Charles Roberts.

Members of a ground search and rescue team walk along the shore of the Bay of Fundy in Hillsburn, N.S. in an area where empty life-rafts from a scallop fishing vessel where reported on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Search and rescue aircraft, along with Canadian Coast Guard boats have been dispatched as well. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan. The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

As he guided his lobster boat close to shore Wednesday morning, fisherman Colin Sproul noted the sombre mood in the nearby fishing villages with Christmas only nine days away.

“We’re just searching the waters here, hoping to see something,” he said in an interview, adding that visibility was poor because the -10 C air temperature was causing “bay steam” to rise off the water.

“When any fishermen might need help, we always turn out,” Sproul said.

Click to play video: 'Digby, NS residents apprehensive as search continues for missing scallop boat' Digby, NS residents apprehensive as search continues for missing scallop boat
Digby, NS residents apprehensive as search continues for missing scallop boat – Dec 16, 2020

Jacob Jacquard, who worked on the missing vessel last year, said the boat had been fishing off Alma, N.B., at the head of the bay and the crew was returning to shore with a full load of scallops when disaster struck.

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Harold Jarvis, a fellow Yarmouth fisherman, said he, too, had previously fished with the same men.

“As far as I know, they were just on their way home from a trip,” he said. “They just never made it to port.”

As volunteer searchers assembled at the church hall in Hillsburn, N.S., on Wednesday morning, school buses crawled through the village, picking up bundled-up children.

The village’s brightly coloured Christmas decorations provided a sharp contrast to the low clouds and slate grey waters of the bay.

It’s not hard to tell that most residents along the shore make their living on the bay. One home that backs onto the water features a tall Christmas tree made from colourful buoys. A few doors down, a replica lighthouse is festooned with lights.

Read more: Man charged with second degree murder in Morris Street death

Alain d’Entremont, president of the Full Bay Scallop Association, said the scallop fleet goes out on the bay to fish and then returns to more sheltered water to remove the meat in the shellfish, a process known as shucking.

“It’s just sadness now in the community,” he said. “Everybody knows it could have been any fisher. It’s a hard thing to reflect on.”

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The scallop fishery is a year-round enterprise, which means the crews must get used to rough weather.

On Wednesday, searchers had to climb over rocky beaches still covered in a light dusting of snow and ice. They had to deal with heavy surf, freezing spray and winds that were blowing the snow sideways.

A member of a ground search and rescue team walks along the shore of the Bay of Fundy in Hillsburn, N.S. as they continue to look for five fishermen missing after the scallop dragger Chief William Saulis sank in the Bay of Fundy, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. RCAF search and rescue aircraft and Canadian Coast Guard boats have been dispatched as well. The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens, spokesman for the rescue co-ordination centre in Halifax, said three military aircraft joined the search, as did three Canadian Coast Guard vessels and some local fishing boats.

“We keep searching until they tell us to stop,” said search manager Hilton Seymour, team leader of Annapolis Valley Ground Search and Rescue. He said the searchers were “looking to provide the families with closure.”

Rev. Bob Elliott of the Hillsburn United Baptist Church noted the tragedies that have come one after another in Nova Scotia this year.

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“I believe that COVID-19 and the 22 who were killed earlier in this province (in the April mass shooting) has taught us that family and loved ones are more important than anything else we have,” he said.

“We will get through this. We’re Maritimers. We’ve been through a lot in the years past.”

— With files from Danielle Edwards and Michael Tutton in Halifax.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2020.

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