Father of crewman says coast guard should never have left capsized fishing boat

HALIFAX – The father of one of the men on board an overturned fishing boat says the coast guard should never have left the vessel before trying to stabilize it.

George Hopkins said Friday that official search crews may have needlessly lost track of the Miss Ally, which capsized sometime Sunday with five men on board.

Hopkins, whose 27-year-old son Joel is among the missing fishermen, conceded that the coast guard may not have been able to search the inside of the 13-metre fishing boat but it could have kept an eye on it.

“They should have stayed there,” he said from his home in Woods Harbour, N.S. “That was a big mistake, right there. You don’t leave it, you leave someone by it.”

Maj. Martell Thompson, spokesman for the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax, said once the search was called off Tuesday at 6 p.m., the navy and coast guard pulled away from the area.

“We don’t do recovery, we do search and rescue,” Thompson said in an interview, adding that the RCMP was in charge the moment the search was ended.

“The JRCC, search and rescue, we focus on saving lives, not assets.”

He said if the RCMP had decided to recover the upturned Miss Ally, they would have to hire a private salvage company to do so.

In a conference call on Friday from Brussels, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said there will be a review of the Canadian Forces response to the accident.

“I know, having grown up in Atlantic Canada, that these tragedies are devastating for the families and for the entire community and so all efforts were made with respect to both the search and rescue in the early stages and now we are working with other agencies to do what we can to support the families,” he added.

A military aircraft headed out Friday to resume the search for any signs of the Miss Ally. A sweep over the area Thursday by aircraft revealed small items of debris close to the last known position of the boat and analysis of photos taken during the air patrol suggested the items were from the vessel.

Hopkins said it doesn’t mean the boat has gone down, suggesting that the materials found could have been on the deck.

“You’re going to have some debris, I mean, you’ve got lots of things on deck,” he said. “If they’ve seen parts of the hull, well that would be different.”

A spokesman for the RCMP said the coast guard vessel Sir William Alexander was also sent towards an area over 100 kilometres southeast of Liverpool.

About seven fishing vessels also steamed out of Woods Harbour Thursday, fed up with the response from government agencies in finding the boat.

But Hopkins said crew aboard the fishing boats reported that it was too windy to continue the search Friday, though they planned to stay on site to wait for the weather to improve.

Families of the fishermen had asked federal authorities to attempt to recover the hull of the vessel and bring the bodies of the fishermen home after the search was called off.

The upturned boat was last spotted by the coast guard Tuesday afternoon, shortly before the search was called off.

Hopkins was also critical of the initial efforts to find a life-raft believed to be on board, insisting that an infrared photo taken by the U.S. Coast Guard of an object on the surface was Miss Ally’s hull, not a life-raft.

“There was no raft, there never was,” Hopkins said. “They wasted a lot of time looking for a raft that wasn’t there, I think.”

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