PORT BICKERTON – It was ‘anchors aweigh’ for the good ship CCGS Chignecto Bay in Port Bickerton on Sept. 2, and assembled dignitaries could not have asked for calmer waters to launch this new class of search and rescue vessel for the Eastern Shore.
Gathered under a glittering, late summer sky to participate in the traditional bottle-breaking ceremony were: Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and Central Nova MP Sean Fraser; Canadian Coast Guard Deputy Commissioner (Shipbuilding and Materiel) Andy Smith; Canadian Coast Guard Assistant Commissioner (Atlantic Region) Gary Ivany; Paqtnkek First Nation Elder Marlene Companion; and vessel sponsor Keith Horton. The vessel sponsor is a civilian who participates in a vessel naming ceremony and takes an ongoing interest in the vessel's operations.
“When you’re raised in a coastal community that depends upon the ocean for its livelihood, you come to learn the importance of marine safety at an early age,” said Fraser. “This new vessel will carry on the proud work of the Canadian Coast Guard in providing the lifesaving marine search and rescue response that will protect our community members for a generation.”
The Chignecto Bay is the 12th of 20 new bay class search and rescue lifeboats rolling out under a $170-million program of the National Shipbuilding Strategy in coastal communities across Canada. It replaces the old Arun-class Bickerton – which is being decommissioned after 25 years of service to the area – and represents a technological leap forward, according to Ivany.
“We worked closely with the Royal National Lifeboat Institute in the U.K.,” Ivany said about the program’s engineering specifications in an interview following the ceremony. “It’s everything from the fuel efficiency of the engine, to the integrated flying bridge, to maneuverability and bow thruster, which is [useful] doing rescues close to shore.”
Crewed by four – a commander, engineer and two rescue personnel – and self-righting, the vessel is built to conduct searches on water, respond to marine distress calls, assist disabled boats and operate up to 100 nautical miles from safe harbour. It can maintain a 30-minute state-of-readiness and, when underway, a speed of up to 25 knots.
That’s important. Port Bickerton is one of two Canadian Coast Guard stations (the other is Louisburg) that covers a vast, frequently tempestuous, offshore area from Sheet Harbour to the northern tip of Cape Breton. “There’s everything from [helping] paddleboarders to kayakers to fishing boats from this station,” Ivany said. “There’s that and, of course, being prepared for much larger events like a mass rescue.”
Each year, the Canadian Coast Guard responds to more than 6,000 calls for marine assistance, coordinating, on any given day, responses to 19 search and rescue incidents, assisting 68 people and saving 18 lives, according to an official backgrounder.
Said Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, in a news release: “The National Shipbuilding Strategy will ensure that the Canadian Coast Guard’s search and rescue personnel have state-of-the-art equipment to keep Nova Scotians and all Canadians safe when they’re on the water.”
Four more vessels are scheduled for construction at Chantier Naval Forillon (Gaspé, Quebec) and Hike Metal Products (Wheatley, Ontario) shipyards through 2022.