Marine search triggered by missed head count

NANAIMO – A marine search by coast guard and police could have been prevented with a simple head count.

A missing fishing boat crewman triggered a massive pre dawn search by Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Marine search and rescue units Tuesday morning.

The fishing boat, Savage Fisher, departed Nanaimo at about 3:30 a.m. and was underway toward Yellow Point when its captain discovered one of his crew was missing.

Unsure whether the man had boarded the vessel, and faced with the possibility the crewman had fallen overboard, the captain called emergency services to begin a search of the waters south of Nanaimo shortly before 7 a.m.

The crewman’s cellphone was pinged, but searchers were unable to find it’s location.

When Nanaimo RCMP were called in to help with the search it wasn’t long before they had a fix on the search subject’s whereabouts. It turned out the 25-year-old man from Prince Rupert had been arrested for assault at about 2 a.m. and had been transferred to an RCMP holding cell in Ladysmith.

Because Nanaimo RCMP detachment’s cells are under renovation, police are transferring prisoners to cells in Ladysmith and Parksville.

“He got into a dust up with a taxi driver,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman. “He wanted to barter instead of pay cash and that wasn’t an accepted monetary means.”

The man was reportedly intoxicated at the time of the altercation, which happened at the corner of Wallace and Fitzwilliam streets after a taxi had picked him up from a bar.

“An A.C. Taxi driver had requested police assistance for a male who had just assaulted him by throwing several punches from the back seat of the cab,” O’Brien said. “He had tried to pay with cigarettes. He was obviously thrown out of the cab and members saw him walking down the street and arrested him for assault.”

The suspect has been released on a promise to appear in Nanaimo provincial court May 14.

One Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft and several other vessel were involved in the search.

O’Brien said a lot of taxpayer expense could have been avoided with a simple head count.

“I’m sure vessels have safety protocols in place, but in this particular case a head count prior to departing from shore would have been the more prudent way to deal with the situation of a missing crew member,” he said. “It would be more economical and less costly to just do a quick head count from here on in.”