Fathers of missing fishermen want retrieval of capsized boat, closure

WOODS HARBOUR, N.S. – The fathers of two young Nova Scotia fishermen who disappeared when their boat capsized are demanding the Canadian government retrieve the vessel.

Stephen Nickerson and George Hopkins say the 13-metre boat — spotted overturned early Monday off southwest Nova Scotia — could contain the bodies of their sons and answers as to why the boat flipped over Sunday night.

The two men, speaking in separate interviews on Wednesday, say time is running out because the boat is unlikely to stay afloat for much longer.

“If my boy is in that boat, I want to bring him home,” Nickerson said. “I think he’s in that boat. And I think attempts should be made to (salvage the vessel).”

In addition to Steven Cole Nickerson and Joel Hopkins, there were three other men aboard the Miss Ally when it capsized in rough seas some time after 11 p.m. Sunday.

Stephen Nickerson said he’s asked the military for a salvage operation, but he was told the case is now being handled by the RCMP as a missing persons file.

“It seems like they’re not going to do anything about that,” said Nickerson, a fisherman for 35 years. “They said the search is called off and it’s been turned over to the RCMP. That’s it. That’s as far as they go. … We’re all mad. It should go farther.”

George Hopkins said the families need closure.

“We need to know if there’s bodies in there,” he said.

“I want to get the message that these kids were important. They were important to me, they were important to this community and there’s five young boys in the prime of their life. We need closure. We need to know for sure that we’ve done everything we can.”

Hopkins, sitting in his living room with two close friends and surrounded by photos of smiling children, said he got the news Tuesday afternoon that the search would be called off.

“It was like someone passing you a death certificate,” he said.

RCMP Cpl. Scott MacRae said the Mounties are aware of the strong emotions surrounding the case, adding that planning is underway to determine whether a salvage operation could be carried out.

“We are in the stages of developing what our strategy is going to be to do this, to move the investigation in a safe manner, hopefully sooner than later,” he said.

The RCMP have a “very good idea” where the boat is, but MacRae couldn’t confirm whether the vessel was still afloat.

“We understand the emotions with the tragic loss of family members — the human aspect of wanting to retrieve your loved one,” he said.

A massive search for survivors was called off at 6 p.m. Tuesday when the military decided the crew’s chances for survival were slim, even if they were wearing immersion suits.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax