Searchers find body of crew member from scallop boat that disappeared in Bay of Fundy
HALIFAX -- Searchers found the body of one crew member late Tuesday from a scallop boat that went missing earlier in the morning.
The search-and-rescue operation for the missing scallop boat and the rest of its crew missing in the waters off Nova Scotia's Annapolis County continued into the night.
Military aircraft and coast guard vessels searched for the boat off the coast of Delaps Cove, N.S., near Annapolis Royal while search and rescue teams scoured the coastline.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax has identified the boat as the “Chief William Saulis.” According to a tweet from JRCC Halifax, six people were believed to be onboard the vessel.
A spokesperson for the JRCC confirms an emergency radio beacon was sent out around 5:50 a.m. Tuesday.
According to the Halifax Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centre, seas were two to three metres high and winds were gusting well over 50 kilometres per hour when the vessel sank. Poor weather also hampered the search by military aircraft and three coast guard vessels.
Tuesday evening, the JRCC tweeted that another aircraft had been added to the search efforts.
The JRCC spokesperson added that debris and two life-rafts were spotted in the Digby, N.S., area Tuesday morning, but no one was on them.
"We spotted some debris this morning. As well there was two life-rafts that were washed ashore in the Digby area but no one was on those life rafts so we are continuing to search for anyone in the water," said Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre.
CTV News has confirmed the boat's captain is Charles Burton-Roberts.
“The boys probably just wanted to get a last paycheque before Christmas,” said Philip Carty, a Digby scallop fisherman who knows Burton-Roberts. “It’s horrific. It does bother me.”
Carty travelled from Digby, N.S. to help with the search.
“I found a first-aid kit out of a life-raft, and I found some fresh jugs of milk,” he said.
The search is being hampered by high winds and rough waters.
High winds and waves have made the operation challenging. A Hercules airplane and a Cormorant helicopter flew low, using radar to try to spot anything.
“It’s a very scientific search that they do use," Owens said. "They’re very skilled at it but it’s an expanding search as it goes along.”
Local fishers have also joined the search and onshore people are holding onto hope.
“He was close to home, another hour, he would have been in safe waters,” said Carty. “The Bay of Fundy is some treacherous piece of water in my mind.”
Alain d'Entremont, the president of the Full Bay Scallop Association, confirmed that the boat is owned by Yarmouth Sea Products, which is a member of the association.
D'Entremont said the 15-metre scallop dragger was on its way to Digby, N.S., when it disappeared early Tuesday morning.
According to d’Entremont, other scallop boats turned around when they heard an emergency signal and headed back to the area, but only found debris at the scene.
A nearby church has been turned into a command centre for the search, and a place to provide comfort. It’s an idea the Hillsburn Baptist Church came up with a year ago, in case of an emergency in the area.
“It’s something you want in place, but you hope and pray that you never have to use it,” said Angela Bernie, a member of the church.
Near the scene along the Bay of Fundy, Rev. Bob Elliott, the pastor of the Hillsburn United Baptist Church, said in an interview that fears of the worst were mounting for the missing scallop dragger Chief William Saulis.
"If you're a praying person, you should be praying now," the minister said.
"We're remaining hopeful until we're told not to be hopeful. It's nearing Christmas, and there's people, and loved ones, and there are children involved. So we must remain positive for now."
A fisherman who worked on the dragger last year described his distress at the news that searchers only found fragments of the boat near the site where the emergency beacon went off.
Jacob Jacquard said high tides and wicked winds can rapidly transform the Bay of Fundy into a dangerous place to work.
"It's hitting real close to home," he said from his home in the Yarmouth area.
"It's a very sad day for our community, that's for sure. I grew up with most of these guys. I've known them my whole life."
He said he also finds it hard to understand how the incident unfolded, given the experience of the captain.
"He's (the captain) been in the business a long time, he knows the waters. It could've been a number of things that took place. It could've been anything from mechanical issues to one bad wave hit them."
Two helicopters from CFB Greenwood are searching for the missing boat, along with the Canadian Coast Guard.
SEARCH CONTINUED INTO THE NIGHT
Owens said the search would continue through the day and into the night.
"Our determination is to find these individuals as quickly as possible and we'll continue as long as we have to in order to find these people," he said.
The area has a long tradition of scallop fishing, and a prior sinking tragedy is still fresh in the memories of many fishers in the Digby area.
On Sept. 14, 2010, a search in the Bay of Fundy for a missing scallop dragger, The RLJ, and its crew of four was called off after the military confirmed none had survived.
The draggers often set out from Yarmouth and Digby on multi-day journeys in the bay, and typically have emergency beacons that can instantly alert authorities if a disaster occurs.
However, Roger LeBlanc, a member of the Maritime Fishermen's Union and lobster fisherman based out of nearby Meteghan, N.S., said winds overnight were unexpectedly fierce.
"The seas are high today, the currents are running high, it's the highest tides of the year, really, and there's a lot of currents," he said. "Anything can happen."
The RCMP is overseeing the shoreline searches, which are being conducted by local volunteers. Cpl. Mike Carter, RCMP incident commander, said about 35 searchers had been working in small teams throughout the day and well past dark.
"The weather is not very conducive for searching," he said in an interview, noting that the tide was so high at noon that searchers could not walk along the shore.
"The temperature is below zero and the wind has been blowing from the west all day. There's offshore winds, pounding surf and the searchers are experiencing sea frost and mist coming off the breaking waves."
Kent Molyneaux, search director for the Annapolis County Ground Search and Rescue Association, confirmed searchers had found objects "that indicate there was a boat in distress," but he declined to be more specific.
He said the search covers about 10 kilometres of shoreline.
"Regardless of the conditions, we concentrate on the hope that we will find survivors," he said, standing in the basement hall of Hillsburn United Baptist Church, where volunteer searchers wearing bright orange sipped coffee or ate fish and chips. "You cannot give up. We will not give up. We're trying to help the families."
Angela Burnie, a member of the church, spent the day working in the warming centre for first responders, offering tea, coffee and sandwiches.
"Words can't explain how we feel here on the shore, because it's right in our backyard," she said.
"There's been, certainly, boats that have gone down and lives have been lost, but nothing this close to our little community," said Burnie. "We just have to hope and pray that everything goes well."
With files from The Canadian Press