A Cermaq employee was saved from the water in Ahousaht territory on Wednesday after he fell during a smolt transport operation. (Eric Plummer photo)
A man was rescued from the waters of Ahousaht territory Wednesday after falling off a barge during an aquaculture transport operation.
Shortly before nightfall the Cermaq employee fell into the cold water of Clayoquot Sound while the barge was being pulled by a tugboat east of Flores Island. Cermaq, which operates over a dozen fish farms in the region, confirmed that the incident occurred during the transport of smolts.
“BC Emergency Health Services received a call at 7:18 pm on Oct. 3 for a person reported to have fallen in the water,” said BCEHS in an email to the Ha-Shilth-Sa, adding that an ambulance met the man an hour later at a dock in Tofino for transport to the town’s hospital.
Wearing a personal floatation device, he was pulled from the water by a passing speedboat from Ahousaht.
“One of our Ahousaht boats that was travelling from Hot Springs Cove had seen the man waving his hands in the water. They picked him up,” said the First Nation’s chief councillor Greg Louie.
WorkSafe BC was notified, and one of their officers is investigating the incident. It’s unclear why he was left in the water, but sources estimate the man could have been overboard for as long as 40 minutes.
“We’re very, very fortunate that the boat was travelling back to Ahousaht,” commented Louie. “It was almost getting dark. If it was a few minutes later, he could have easily been missed.”
Cermaq Canada’s managing director David Kiemele said that, thankfully, the man was unharmed when pulled from the water.
“There is an investigation underway into the incident, so we can’t comment further at this time,” he stated in an email from the company. “But we would like to express sincere thanks and gratitude to the members of the Ahousaht community who rescued the employee and took him to safety. Thanks to the quick actions and help of the community members, our employee is safe and unharmed from the incident.”
Louie said that Ahousaht members have been engaged in an increasing amount of water rescues in their hahoulthee over recent years. The highest profile incident was the Leviathan II tragedy, a whale watching boat that capsized nearly three years ago. Six of the vessel’s occupants drowned, but 21 others were saved by Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht boats that came to the scene.
“The rescues have increased a lot,” said Louie. “In the past it wasn’t as frequent but now there’s more traffic in our waters, whether it’s speed boats, fishing boats, kayaks, barges, whale watchers, sporties (recreational fishing) - there’s so much traffic daily now in waters that the frequency of an accident on the water has really increased.”
“We continue to tell this to the government, the provincial government and the federal government,” added Louie. “Our boats, the Ahousaht people, are usually the first at the scene.”