RCMP say fishing vessel that sank last month off Nova Scotia located in deep water
Published Sunday, January 17, 2021 10:49AM AST Last Updated Monday, January 18, 2021 10:39AM AST
HILLSBURN, N.S. -- A scallop dragger that sank off the coast of southwestern Nova Scotia with six fishermen on board has been found more than a month after it first went missing, RCMP announced Sunday.
A search of a targeted area of the Bay of Fundy using side sonar and a remotely operated underwater vehicle early Saturday located a mass in more than 60 metres of water. Police later confirmed the mass was the wreckage of the Chief William Saulis.
In an interview Sunday, RCMP spokesman Sgt. Andrew Joyce said the vessel was found upright more than two kilometres from the shore of Delaps Cove, N.S.
Although the operation had to deal with tough cross currents and poor visibility, Joyce said searchers were able to make a clear video identification.
"It was described to me as like driving with your high beams on in a snow storm," he said of the conditions underwater.
Joyce said the families of the missing crew have been advised.
According to Joyce, the depth of the water makes it impossible to use divers and investigators are still trying to determine how best to search the inside of the vessel. Saturday's search gave no indication of any bodies nearby.
"We, like everybody else, are hoping that the bodies are on board," said Joyce.
The dragger, which had been operating out of Digby, N.S., suddenly sank in rough seas on Dec. 15. The body of 48-year-old crew member Michael Drake of Fortune, N.L., was found hours later along the coast north of Digby.
But crew members Aaron Cogswell, Leonard Gabriel, Dan Forbes and Geno Francis and captain Charles Roberts are still missing.
The experienced crew did not issue a mayday distress call via VHF radio before the boat foundered.
The 15-metre vessel is owned by Yarmouth Sea Products, a member of the Full Bay Scallop Association in Yarmouth, N.S.
Association president Alain d'Entremont said Sunday that he learned of the RCMP's discovery from one of the missing fishermen's relatives.
"It's still on everybody's mind, so I'm glad they found it and we are now waiting to see what the next steps are," said d'Entremont.
With how quickly the Chief William Saulis went down, d'Entremont says many in the industry believe the missing crew members could still be inside the vessel.
"Hopefully that's still the case, so if they can recover the bodies that would be incredible I think to provide some closure for the families," he said.
But the tides in the Bay of Fundy are massively powerful, with a single tidal cycle moving about 110 billion tons of water in and out of the bay.
That poses challenges to remotely operated underwater vehicles and to human divers.
"What challenges and what technology there is will be considered to determine if they (fishermen) are still on board and whether they can be safely recovered," Joyce said.
“Everyone in that area, they are looking for closure, and part of that closure is bringing these boys home, and we understand that,” says Joyce. “If that can be done safely, and if we are able to facilitate that, by all means – that is the goal of the RCMP.”
Joyce said it's unknown, at this point, how long it will be before a potential recovery operation can be attempted.
Lori Philips, mother of 29-year-old Cogswell, says the last few months have been difficult for her family.
“I had my father in law die the 28th of November; my son took his ashes out on that trip to spread them in the ocean. My mother had a cancer surgery last Thursday,” said Phillips. “Between cleaning out that house and trying to be there for my mother, trying to mourn two people, it’s been awful.”
The Mayor of Yarmouth, Pam Mood, says the families and community have been going through a great deal of hardship. She hopes the finding of the boat provides some measure of closure.
“The community today is certainly breathing a deep sigh of relief that the vessel has been found,” said Mood.
Now that the vessel has been found, Phillips is hoping to bring her son home and properly grieve.
“I’m hoping that they’re all still there waiting to come up and come home,” said Philips.
“What we want most for these families, the suffering is tremendous, and we want closure for them and bringing their loved ones home, that’s all they’ve wanted, for their loved ones to return home,” said Mood. “So hopefully, this happens with the finding of the vessel.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Natasha Pace.