Reservist receives commendation for rescue

Navy News / October 8, 2015

By Captain Julien Beauchamp-Laliberté

The Assistant Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard’s Western Region, Rear-Admiral (Retired) Roger Girouard, presented a commendation to Leading Seaman Philippe Mercier-Provencher, a Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) reservist with HMCS Radisson in Trois-Rivières, Que., on September 8, 2015. He and the crew were recognized for coming to the aid of a fisherman in distress more than 28 nautical miles off Nootka Sound in British Columbia.

LS Mercier-Provencher was participating in the Inshore Rescue Boat (IRB) program at the Nootka Sound Coast Guard station, in collaboration with the Canadian Coast Guard. The goal of the program is to teach rapid response to emergencies at sea. IRB units are crewed by RCN members and university summer students, with a Coast Guard rescue specialist serving as the station’s coxswain.

On September 5, at about 10 p.m., a call came in to the marine search and rescue coordination centre: a fishing vessel was in distress off the B.C. coast. The Caledonian, a commercial fishing vessel with four fishermen on board, had capsized. A search and rescue aircraft was quickly dispatched to the vessel’s last known position, where the crew spotted a flare and a life-raft. As there was no other vessel near the site, LS Mercier-Provencher and two of his colleagues responded to the distress call.

Despite the darkness, the adverse weather conditions and the rough sea, the team set out in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) in order to provide assistance as quickly as possible. These twin outboard engine RHIBs are open and fast rescue craft which are used extensively at Coast Guard Lifeboat Stations and on major Coast Guard ships. Their speed, design and shallow draft make them extremely effective platforms for the IRB program and search and rescue in general.

“Under normal circumstances, we would never have gone out on the water. But there were lives at stake and we had to act,” said LS Mercier-Provencher.

Over a distance of 28 nautical miles, LS Mercier-Provencher and the team braved 1.4‑metre waves and winds in excess of 20 knots to reach the rescue area. At about 1:30 a.m. on September 6, they finally spotted the life raft, which was full of water. Only one of the four fishermen was aboard. LS Mercier-Provencher quickly put his training to good use by assisting the fisherman, who was suffering from hypothermia.

“Our training and experience enabled us to respond without fear and administer first aid,” he said.

But their task was not over yet: the rescue team then had to navigate skilfully through a mass of floating debris before transferring the injured man to a nearby cruise ship, where a medical team took charge of his care. LS Mercier-Provencher’s team then immediately returned to the site of the wreck to look for other survivors. None were found.

It was for this act of bravery that LS Mercier-Provencher and his colleagues received the Commendation of the Assistant Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard’s Western Region. LS Mercier-Provencher was grateful for the honour and proud of his ability to apply the training he had received in order to carry out his duties. Thanks to his actions and those of his team, a man survived and was reunited with his family.