Friday, July 23, 2010

Questions surround Twillingate tragedy

I'm filling in for Bill Rowe as host of VOCM's afternoon radio call-in show, Backtalk, for the month of July, followed by a week standing in for Randy Simms as host of Open Line. Each day I'll post the show's monologue, which I prepare in advance.

•••

Good afternoon Newfoundland and Labrador and all the ships at sea.


“Twillingate says goodbye”, is the headline in The Telegram story today about the funeral of the two brothers, James and Josh Guy, 12 and 10 years old, who died in last weekend’s boating tragedy off the island's northeast coast.


Mayor Gordon Noseworthy is quoted as saying the funeral for the boys went well, as well as could be expected.


The funeral, he said, is a step toward closure.


There’s another funeral today, for one of the two men aboard the boat.


Paul Froude, a 42-year-old local fisherman, will be laid to rest today.


The name of the other man hasn’t been released. Searchers are still looking for his body.


The man, originally from Twillingate, was home for a visit from Yellowknife to see his mother.


The main focus of the story has been the loss of the two brothers.


Which is understandable, the death of the brothers is especially heart breaking.


As Jack Troake from Twillingate said earlier this week: “It’s bad enough to lose to older fellows, but the two children hadn’t lived yet.


Mayor Noseworthy is right, the funerals do lead towards closure.


Once they're done the media should probably start asking questions.


We know that at least three of the four people in the five-metre boat had lifejackets on.


While they didn’t survive, at least their bodies were found.


But are there lessons to learn from the Twillingate tragedy?


Questions should be raised, especially now, on the eve of the food fishery starting up again tomorrow (July 24th), when thousands of locals and tourists will hit the water for their 5 fish a day.


They’ll be sailing all sizes and shapes of watercraft.


The four people who died in the Twillingate tragedy were in a five-metre open boat on the North Atlantic.


Is that too small a boat to be out in?


I’m not asking the question to be critical of the men.


I’m asking the question to see if there’s something we can learn from this — so a similar tragedy doesn’t happen again.


The media should also question the emergency response.


Was it adequate? Was it what it should have been?


Should boaters keep a better eye on the weather before heading out?


Searchers said conditions at sea were likely far rougher than Paul Froude, the man who’s being buried today, and his guest could have imagined from Twillingate Harbour.


What’s the best way to check sea conditions before heading out?

•••

As for the fishery — and I want to mention this off the top — I’ve received some interesting e-mails over the past few days about a fairly new development.


And it’s in regards to foreign or mainland interests buying into a Newfoundland and Labrador fish company.


I’ve been told that players from Iceland and New Brunswick have become shareholders in a Newfoundland fish business.


People are questioning the implications of foreign ownership of our fish companies.


We can hardly be masters of own destiny, fishing destiny anyway, if quotas and plants and boats are — worse-case scenario — owned by outside interests.

•••

Still with the sea, and Marine Atlantic, local truckers are still planning some kind of demonstration for this coming Tuesday (July 27th) at Port aux Basques over Marine Atlantic’s new commercial reservation system.


Marine Atlantic is sticking to its guns — the federal Crown corporation won’t be changing its commercial reservations system.


In fact, president Wayne Follett says only a small percentage of its customers don't like the system, and some are waging a propaganda campaign.


Follett says Marine Atlantic officials asked the Atlantic Provinces Truckers Association about the matter.


The association polled its members and found most support the commercial reservation system.


If that’s the case, why are local truckers so up in arms, why is a protest being contemplated for next week?


Why don’t local truckers seem to have the support of the Atlantic Provinces Truckers Association?


Local truckers are free to call in today to answer some questions.


And, as usual, if you have anything to say about Marine Atlantic — good or bad — you’re always welcome to call in.

•••

Good news from the port of Montreal, the lockout involving about 850 longshoremen is set to end Saturday morning (July 24th).


Managers and workers have come to an interim deal, which covers conditions for reopening the port.


I had a caller Thursday who tried to put a figure on the amount of food and materials that are brought into Newfoundland and Labrador from mainland Canada.


The amount is astronomical; we spend a fortune.


If there’s a message from the Port of Montreal strike it’s that we have to become more self-sufficient.


If we didn’t have a mainland supply chain we'd probably starve.


Would you?


How long would the food in your cupboard and fridge keep you going?


What do you do when it runs out?

•••

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, the board that regulates our offshore industry, did an about face yesterday.


The CNLOPB announced it would release oil spill response plans upon request.


The regulator was keeping some of the information secret, including who’s in charge in the event of an oil spill?


And where the oil would drift?


I’m told it wouldn’t make its way to Newfoundland and Labrador shores.


Where would it end up?


If it doesn’t end up on our shoes, should we care?


There’s supposedly no such thing as a stupid question, but that one is.


I’m also interested in liability, if there's a spill off our shores how much would oil companies be liable for in terms of cleanup and possibly compensation?


Including compensation to fishermen.


How much would the Government of Canada be liable for?


Shouldn’t we know the answer to these questions now, before something happens?

•••

The CNLOPB has released some information on oil-spill response.


Enough information for us to realize that if there’s a spill or an accident with the well that's currently being drilled by Chevron and a consortium of companies on the Orphan Basin off Newfoundland, a well that’s one kilometre deeper than Gulf of Mexico well, there could be some big problems.


According to a story in the national news, Chevon has warned regulators that sea ice and fierce storms in the North Atlantic could hinder its ability to clean up a major oil spill and drill a relief well to plug the leak.


"The feature that distinguishes the Orphan Basin from other deepwater exploration and production areas is the combined occurrence of both storms and ice encroachment. Both elements can be limiting factors in an oil spill response,” said Chevron.


So there you have it, from the horse’s mouth.


But there must to be balance between development and protection of the environment.


Do we have that?

•••

Still with offshore ice, the reality is we don’t have much any more.


In fact, there’s a story in The Globe and Mail this morning that questions whether Twillingate is still the iceberg capital of the world.


So far this year the town on Newfoundland’s northeast coast has seen only one berg, and none in the peak tourist season that began last month.


Why don’t we have as many icebergs this year?


Apparently, there have been a lot of storms this year up north that pushed icebergs towards land.


There, they ran aground until they melted enough to float free.


Now smaller, and moving south later in the year, the bergs are more likely to fall prey to warmer weather and melt faster.


In other words, melt before they get here, before they get to Twillingate.


I had a conversation last evening with someone who told me that the new iceberg capital of the World is St. Lewis, Labrador.


Is it?

•••

This being Friday free for all, I want to mention a few topics that were raised here on Backtalk during the week.


First, there was a fair bit of discussion about the plan by the federal Conservative government to spend $16 billion on new fighter jets.


Some people say there’s a need — Canada should be able to defend itself, and our soldiers need the best equipment and weapons money can buy.


So they have a fighting chance.


Other people say Canada doesn’t have anything to defend itself from — that we should be a nation of peacekeepers — not fighters.


I have a question: imagine if we could take that $16 billion and buy a couple of science ships to work off the east coast.


I can’t remember when the last time the feds built a science vessel.


Do you?


The Danny Williams administration has taken the unprecedented step of setting aside $14 million on fish science, to do what the feds apparently aren’t doing.


Imagine if we could take that $16 billion and build new Coast Guard ships.


Or to have a uniform response time for search and rescue helicopters out of Gander.


Not a response time for office hours, and another for after-office hours.

•••

There seems to be some controversy about the raise given to municipal workers in Grand Falls-Windsor.


Town workers — including public works, parks and recreation, and town and fire hall employees — will all get a $3.10 per hour wage increase over four years, or 14.5 per cent.


That raise seems high given the economic pain suffered by central Newfoundland in recent years, primarily with the closure of the AbitibiBowater mill.


Bradley George of the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of Canadian Federation of Independent Business is concerned about the wage package.


He’s slams it, and questions who’s going to pay for it?


The mayor of Grand Falls Windsor, Al Hawkins, questions why George hasn’t criticized the 16 per cent raise given to workers in St. John’s, or the 18 per cent raise sought by municipal workers in Mount Pearl.

•••

I saw on Here and Now last evening that three foxes were spotted in Gunner’s Cove by L’Anse aux Meadows on the Great Northern Peninsula.


Sure it was only a couple of weeks ago that I saw a fox near Portugal Cove, just outside St. John’s, crossing the road.


It had a tail that would have made the crowd at Vogue Furriers salivate.


Remember this July weekend — don’t feed the animals.

•••

Finally, for now, did you hear about the black bear near Thunder Bay, Ont. that had its head stuck in a jar for about two weeks?


Someone took a picture of it so it’s not an urban legend.


You’ll be happy to know that the bear apparently freed itself.


Conservation officers found the jar with a clump of bear hair in it and clawmarks on the side.


Winnie the Pooh lives yet.


The Backtalk lines are open.

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