PORT AUX BASQUES, N.L. — The crew of the MV Leif Ericson jumped into action late last night after receiving a distress call from a Nova Scotia fishing vessel.
The Sulia’n was a 45-foot First Nations fishing boat with a crew of three, who were forced to abandon ship after a fire broke out approximately 50 nautical miles northeast of Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Major Mark Gough, senior public affairs officer, Maritime Forces Atlantic Headquarters, says the initial distress call came in to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Halifax at approximately 8:30 p.m. Atlantic time.
“The marine vessel San Alessio and ferry Leif Ericson responded to the mayday from the fishing vessel and proceeded to the area. The Canadian Coast Guard ship Spindrift, as well as a Canadian Armed Forces Cormorant helicopter and Hercules aircraft were dispatched,” confirmed Gough via email.
By 10:20 p.m. the Hercules aircraft that had been dispatched arrived to find the fishing vessel ablaze. Fifteen minutes later the MV Leif Ericson arrived on scene and launched two rescue boats and were successful in pulling the fishermen from the water. By then the trio, dressed in their survival suits, had been clinging together for over an hour.
Darrell Mercer, corporate communication officer for Marine Atlantic, says the Ericson, under the command of Captain Scott Dowding, received the first call from the JRCC around 10 p.m. and immediately altered course to assist. Mercer notes that the Marine Atlantic crew is fully trained in search and rescue.
“When they arrived, the vessel was in distress and it was on fire,” reports Mercer. “Three of the individuals that were on the fishing boat were in the water and they were in their survival suits.”
The crew of the Ericson pulled the three men from the water and transported them to Port aux Basques.
Captain Blaine Hamilton of the Sulia’n says that initially the fire that broke out from an exhaust which sparked some sealant was thought to be under control.
“We thought we had the fire out and we started to proceed to Glace Bay and fire broke out again. It was much more severe,” said Hamilton. “We put the life raft over and the way it went around the front of the boat – we couldn’t get to because of the smoke, and we put on our immersion suits and got in the water.”
One of the three, Christian Phillips of Waycobah First Nation, was taken to hospital for unrelated medical treatment and later released. He says that even with the survival suits they were getting pretty cold by then.
“I was shivering. I had water in my immersion suit,” Phillips said. “When I jumped in, I swam over on my belly and the water went into my suit.”
Phillips said the men tried to make little jokes and keep their sense of humour while they clung together.
Levi Poulette, also of Waycobah First Nation, says “It’s good to be back I guess. First time for me for a boat fire.”
The Ericson later brought the men back home to Nova Scotia. Despite the ordeal, all three men have pledged to return to the water and continue fishing.
Mercer says Marine Atlantic is very happy with the outcome, and offered high praise for the crew of the MV Leif Ericson.
“The training came in handy last night and we were able to save these three individuals,” says Mercer. “It was a great job done by all.”
Captain Dowding, who served with the coast guard prior to joining Marine Atlantic, estimates the Ericson was 14 miles west of the Sulia’n when they altered course to render assistance.
“It was favourable conditions at that time,” says Dowding, who estimates the waves were no greater than half a metre.
“The whole operation, from the time we launched our FRC (fast rescue craft), took about 35 minutes, so it was excellent, excellent work by our deck personnel,” says Dowding. “Shortly after midnight we were proceeding towards Port aux Basques.”
Gough says investigators will try to determine what happened to the fishing vessel, which had about 3,000 pounds of redfish already on board when the fire broke out.
“The last view of the Sulia’n was that it was still on fire and adrift,” he said. “Canadian Coast Guard will conduct an Environmental Response to the vessel and the Transportation Safety Board will conduct an investigation into the incident.