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Unintelligible communication with Coast Guard risks marine safety

Unifor member and 20+ year Coast Guard employee Scott Hodge warned the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans that both the safety of vessels and the BC coastline are at risk due to ongoing failures in “new” communication technology.

Appearing at a hearing on the planned closure of the Coast Guard’s Comox Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre (MCTS) Hodge told the committee “The problem is with the Communications Control System (CCS) that is currently used in many of the communication stations. This technology has been plagued with issues since its implementation….the problems with CCS are systemic”.

Hodge then released never-heard-before audio, obtained by Unifor using a Freedom of Information request. The audio exchange, originating from the MCTS in Iqaluit, clearly demonstrates that Coast Guard transmissions from MCTS stations using the new technology are completely unintelligible at times. Listen to the audio here

“In some instances, the transmissions are so rife with echoes and static they are distorted beyond comprehension”, said Joie Warnock, Unifor’s Western Director. “We’re talking about vital communications here with the potential to be a life or death situation.”

Unifor is demanding a halt to the planned closure of the Comox communications centre. The Comox location does not use the new technology, so it is the only functional emergency backup in the region. The malfunctioning technology was initially supposed to reduce the number of MCTS centres required on the coast. By monitoring traffic, they are the first line of defense if a crew is in distress or an ecological disaster strikes. Hodge told the committee that over the last two years 9 of the 22 MCTS Centres were closed without consulting industry, mariners, the public, or the Union.

In addition to technological flaws with downsizing, Unifor says that geographic and seismic considerations demand a cancellation of the planned closure of the Comox base. Both the Prince Rupert and Victoria MCTS centres lie in a tsunami hazard zone in older buildings that will be evacuated during a major earthquake. Only the Comox base could be staffed for the emergencies inherent in a seismic event.

Sign the House of Commons e-petition to stop the closure of the Coast Guard Centre in BC here

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