As small and isolated as Masset Marine Rescue Society (MMRS) may be, the vital island organization has received some big honours this year.
The Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue organization (RCMSAR) has issued a Station Commendation to their Masset unit (No. 45) in recognition for their work last year in acquiring a new rescue vessel, Tagwaal, and the successful training of crew to bring it into service for several challenging, life-or-death missions to date, often in remote locations and under complex circumstances.
Last spring the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre also singled out Masset Marine Rescue with the Top Three Missions of the Year, for their role in saving the crew of the Pacific Pearl in March. MMRC was the first to respond to an early morning Mayday call from the 70-foot wooden fishing vessel taking on water west of Naden Harbour. In heavy winds and chop, MMR volunteers assisted with pumping while keeping the vessel off the rocks. The Pacific Pearl, riding very low in the water, had to be let go but all five crew members were saved.
A Masset RCMP vessel and the Canadian Coast Guard out of Prince Rupert also responded to the call.
Chris Ashurst, president of Massett Marine Rescue / RCMSAR 45 said the unit was very happy with the recognition, but redirected the honours back on Haida Gwaii residents for the moral and financial support that makes the operation possible.
“We’ve got so much support from the community, so when we get a commendation like this it’s like the whole community got one,” he said.
MMRS’s role is a lynch pin for emergency responses in Haida Gwaii waters. Ashurst said it can take at least five hours, sometimes 18 hours for remote rescues, to receive assistance from other RCMSAR units or the Canadian Coast Guard.
“We’re really isolated and don’t have the kind of support a lot of other units enjoy, shoulder to shoulder, down in the south. These remote stations with vast areas … have what’s considered a ‘low frequency, high impact’ situation, where few extra calls in a year can mean a 25 to 50 per cent of our call volume. In the south that wouldn’t be much a problem with the kind of support they have; they can zip out and zip back in an hour. Here, for us we’ve done 12 or 14-hour responses. We’re the only resource that can be there for many hours, even days, depending on the weather.”
MMRS was founded in 16 years ago and today has an active crew list of 17 volunteers covering an area that includes the Dixon Entrance, Northern Hecate Strait, the Masset Inlet, and many more waters around Haida Gwaii.
With large financial contributions from BC Gaming, Gwaii Trust and the Prince Rupert Port Authority, the MMRS received delivery of the the Tagwaal in September last year. The Type 2 Titan custom-built rescue vessel replaced a 15-year old open zodiac, vastly increasing the unit’s emergency response capacity under more extreme circumstances.
Most years MMRS will respond to six calls, sometimes as many as 12. So far this year the unit has completed four missions, all of which were Mayday calls.