The crash of a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue boat that put three crew members in hospital and left the craft upside down on the rocks near Sooke harbour’s Christie Point has raised concerns from several former members of the Sooke operation that systemic problems at the station made the crash inevitable.
Four people were rescued from the boat on Feb. 7 at about 9.45 p.m. during a training mission.
Scott Burchett, who owns a fishing charter business in Sooke, was a volunteer with the search and rescue unit between 2015 and 2017 where he was a rescue technician, crew member, and president of the society charged with the financial side of Station 37’s operation.
“When I got there, the place was a mess. The person before me didn’t do the filings with Revenue Canada, and there wasn’t even any insurance on the boathouse,” Burchett said. “But that wasn’t the biggest problem.”
Burchett said that he left the unit because he was concerned about his safety as a volunteer with the unit and the culture within the station.
“I’d be happy to talk about my experiences with the RCMP as they investigate that accident, and maybe I’ll go public after that. All I know is that there is a boat upside down within sight of the rescue centre, and there were things happening at that boathouse that made that accident inevitable. I’m almost positive this wasn’t the equipment … it was human failure.”
The Sooke News Mirror interviewed six people for this story on the allegations.
Safety and other issues were also a concern for Jeff Walker, another former member of the unit who was relieved of his volunteer position as coxswain in 2018.
He said it was his constant criticism of the organization, particularly about safety issues, that led the leadership of the unit to engineer his removal.
“There’s a small group of people running the station who just brush off any criticism. They either brush it off or find a way to remove you from the organization,” Walker said.
Pat Quealey, the CEO of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue in B.C., responded to concerns about the Sooke station saying there’s an investigation of the accident underway.
“We’re conducting a formal investigation into the root causes of the accident. In the interest of objectivity, this investigation is being co-led with Canadian Coast Guard expertise,” explained Quealey.
“We are aware of some recent allegations that have materialized about the Sooke Station’s history. We take these allegations very seriously and will determine their validity. Our immediate focus is on the ongoing recovery of our injured crew members.”
He was quick to point out that safety is of utmost importance, and Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue takes pride in the training it provides to its volunteers.
He added that his office is responsible for the oversight of 33 marine rescue stations in B.C., and is not involved with the day to day operation of the Sooke unit.
“I can tell you that we have only had one complaint addressed to our office about Sooke Station 37 and that complaint was resolved,” Quealey said.
But Marlene Kiral, another former volunteer with Sooke Station 37, confirmed Walker’s contention that there’s a problem at the heart of the unit.
“There is high turnover (of volunteers) there, and many of the ones who stay put out a happy face to the world, pretending that everything is OK, and then try to change it from the inside,” Kiral said.
“But things are not OK.”