WOODS HARBOUR, N.S. – The father of one of five young Nova Scotia fishermen lost at sea says word that divers found no sign of their bodies beneath a capsized vessel is hard to accept, yet it gives him a sense of closure.
“There’s no need for any more search,” said George Hopkins, whose 27-year-old son Joel Hopkins was among the missing.
Nearby, a dozen cars were parked and a steady stream of family friends came and went, offering condolences as they entered his brightly lit house.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted,” said Hopkins.
“But for me there’s closure knowing the search is over and there’s no hope now of anybody being alive.”
RCMP said Saturday they’ve been told no bodies were found in a search of an overturned boat off southwest Nova Scotia by divers on a private fishing vessel.
The Mounties said the captain of the Slave Driver told the Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Sir William Alexander around 6 p.m. Saturday that divers had visually confirmed that there were no bodies in the Miss Ally.
Supt. Sylvie Bourassa-Muise said according to the information police received, the divers also found that no wheelhouse or sleeping quarters were attached to the vessel’s hull.
For Hopkins, the details of the missing wheelhouse was decisive and crushing news. He said that no wheelhouse meant that the Miss Ally’s life-raft was also torn away.
“With the wheelhouse gone, I think things happened so fast, they didn’t have a chance to get in the life-raft. It would be false hope to continue,” he said.
Searchers spotted the hull of the boat Saturday morning, about 239 kilometres southeast of Halifax and 46 kilometres northwest of the boat’s last known position, RCMP said.
Bourassa-Muise said the HMCS Glace Bay was expected to arrive at the site of the Miss Ally sometime overnight Saturday and would conduct an assessment with a remotely operated vehicle on Sunday morning.
“That is simply done to confirm what the report was from the private fishing boat,” said Bourassa-Muise from Woods Harbour, N.S., on Saturday evening. “That will conclude the efforts.”
Photos will also be taken during the assessment, RCMP said.
The Mounties said an aircraft would continue to maintain a visual sighting of the boat overnight.
The Miss Ally capsized in heavy seas last Sunday with the loss of five young fishermen. Police have not formally released the names of the fisherman, but a family member has identified one of those aboard as Cole Nickerson. The three other men were identified at a local prayer service last Tuesday evening as Katlin Nickerson, Billy Jack Hatfield and Tyson Townsend.
The 13 metre vessel, which was on an extended halibut fishing trip, was last spotted by the coast guard on Tuesday.
After the search for survivors was called off, the families of the fishermen asked federal authorities to recover the overturned vessel to determine if there were bodies inside.
Sandy Stoddard, a Woods Harbour fisherman who helped organize the continued search by local fishermen, said he pleaded with the local RCMP to continue the search for the bodies.
“They knew we weren’t going to let this go until we were satisfied that nobody was on the boat,” he said.
“We are men of little patience. We don’t wait for protocol to do things. When you’re a fishermen on the ocean you don’t follow protocol, you follow knowledge.”
The 57-year-old fisherman now praises the local RCMP officers for passing their message on to the Defence Department and the coast guard.
“They went to bat for us,” he said.
Stoddard said he and many other fishermen in the community still recall a lost vessel from 39 years ago, when another seven men were lost at sea and never recovered.
“There was never any closure to that accident. There was pleading to the authorities this time. We can’t live through this for another 30 or 40 years,” he said.
Pastor Rod Guptill of the Wesleyan Church in Woods Harbour said people were gathered at a community centre Saturday to await word from searchers.
“It’s not good news. But it’s news that does help us accept us begin grieving,” he said.
He said he will now turn his attention to a sermon for Sunday.
“We will mourn with those who mourn. We are there to express our support and sympathy and grief for those who are going through the grieving process,” he said.
— With files from Aly Thomson in Halifax.
Saturday, February 23, 2013