Crew of First Nations fishing boat saved

HALIFAX: The crew of a First Nations fishing boat that caught fire off the coast of Cape Breton was rescued last night.

Major Mark Gough, Senior Public Affairs Officer with Maritime Forces Atlantic, explained that at approximately 8:30 p.m., the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Halifax was advised that the Sulia’n, a 45-foot fishing vessel from We’koqma’q First Nation with three people onboard, was on fire approximately 50 nautical miles northeast of Sydney.

Maj. Gough said the marine vessel San Alessio and Marine Atlantic Ferry Leif Ericson responded to the mayday and proceeded to the area. The Canadian Coast Guard ship Spindrift, a Canadian Armed Forces Cormorant helicopter and a Hercules aircraft were also dispatched.

Marine Atlantic spokesperson Darrell Mercer explained that around 10 p.m. the Leif Ericson was contacted by the JRCC to advise there was a fishing vessel in distress.

“The Leif Ericson happened to be the closest vessel to them at that time,” Mercer noted. “The fishing vessel was actually 15 miles south of Port Aux Basques so the Leif Ericson plotted course to provide assistance.”

At approximately 10:20 p.m., Maj. Gough said the Hercules aircraft arrived on the scene, spotted a life raft in the water and observed that the fishing vessel was on fire.

By approximately 10:35 p.m., Maj. Gough said the Leif Ericson arrived on the scene and immediately launched two rescue boats. They recovered the three people from the life raft and transported them back to the ferry.

“When they got there, the vessel was completely engulfed in flames and so was their lifeboat so the three gentlemen, the crew members of the fishing vessel, were in the water in their survival suits when the Lief Ericson arrived,” Mercer stated.

“The estimate was about an hour-and-a-half that the gentlemen were in the water. Once our fast vessel Crash brought them on board, they were obviously cold. One of the gentlemen was checked out at the hospital in Port Aux Basques and released this morning.”

The ferry continued to Port aux Basques, its destination port, with the three individuals onboard, Maj. Gough pointed out.

“The last view of the Sulia’n was that it was still on fire and adrift,” Major Gough confirmed on September 11. “[The] Canadian Coast Guard will conduct an environmental response to the vessel and the Transportation Safety Board will conduct an investigation into the incident.”

Mercer said the crew members were taken from Port Aux Basques to Marine Atlantic’s North Sydney terminal by the Leif Ericson this morning.

We’koqma’q Band Councillor Steven Googoo made a post to Facebook this morning.

“Waking up to messages hearing that one of our band boats capsized in the ocean is something you never want to hear, your immediate thoughts are the safety of our fishermen, their families and loved ones,” the post read. “I’m very grateful that it was just the boat that was lost and that the ferry was on route at that time. I just want to acknowledge the crew of the ferry for saving our fishermen and to our fishermen, we’re all glad you are safe and on route home.”