Missing fishermen identified as Bay of Fundy search stretches into 2nd day

Missing fishermen identified as Bay of Fundy search stretches into 2nd day

The mother of one of five fishermen still missing in the Bay Fundy says she has accepted her son won’t be found alive, as searchers continue for a second day to comb a stretch of Nova Scotia coastline for signs of the crew of a scallop fishing vessel that hasn’t been heard from since Tuesday morning.

CBC News has learned that Aaron Cogswell, Leonard Gabriel, Dan Forbes, Michael Drake and Geno Francis, along with captain Charles Roberts, were the six men on board the Chief William Saulis.

Late Tuesday evening, the Maritime Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre (JRCC) announced on Twitter that the body of one of the six crew members had been found.

The six men known to have been on board the Chief William Saulis. Top row, from left: Captain Charles Roberts, Aaron Cogswell, Dan Forbes. Bottom row, from left: Geno Francis, Michael Drake and Leonard Gabriel. (Facebook/CBC)

Lori Phillips said her son, Cogswell, 29, had been fishing with the captain of the vessel for seven years. She said his body was not the one recovered on Tuesday evening.

“I know he’s not coming back alive, but I want him to come back home,” she said in an interview.

“The province just lost six great people. Even though I don’t know them, they had to be good. They’re someone’s family. Someone’s missing them and I hope they all come home.”

Phillips said her son was an amazing uncle and brother.

Before he went out on his last fishing trip, Cogswell went to do his Christmas shopping, taking his nephew along and wrapping his gifts in preparation for the holidays.

“He was looking forward to Christmas,” she said.

Her son had high-functioning autism, Phillips said, and Roberts, the captain, took him under his wing.

“He was always there for him. He was his protector,” she said. “He had his daily struggles, but he loved fishing and that’s what he did.”

Phillips said the Chief William Saulis was a newer boat. She said she’s been waiting by the phone for news, but so far knows almost nothing about what happened.

The Chief William Saulis sent out an emergency beacon signal around 5:51 a.m. AT on Tuesday near Delaps Cove, N.S.

Debris was spotted from the air later that morning and two life rafts washed ashore, but no one was on board.

Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens, with the JRCC, could not say exactly where the remains were discovered. He said the body was found just before dinnertime on Tuesday.

“We had to notify the next of kin to make sure that they were fully aware,” Owens said Wednesday morning. “So it did take a little bit of time to make sure they were properly prepared and understanding what had transpired.”

Owens said while crews continued searching throughout the night, they did not find anyone else.

“Certainly our focus still remains hopefully finding these individuals and hopefully bringing them safely to their families,” Owens said.

Michael Drake is from Fortune, N.L., and was a crew member aboard the Chief William Saulis, which sent out an emergency beacon off Delaps Cove in the Bay of Fundy on Dec. 15, 2020. This photo was posted to Facebook by his cousin, Ashley Pittman. (Ashley Pittman/Facebook)

Michael Drake’s oldest sister, Sandra Drake, said her family is devastated by the news. Her brother has two adult children and splits his time between Nova Scotia and his home in Fortune, N.L.

“He was so good. He was a good boy. Would help anybody,” she said, describing her brother as very tough, and a good worker who always supported his kids.

Sandra Drake said her brother began fishing as a young boy. Their father was also a fisherman.

“He loved the ocean. He loved it, he lived on the water,” she said. “He was always so busy, you could never catch him and talk to him, because he was always on the boats or down the wharf working on the boats.

“Now he’s gone.”

‘I just kind of put my head down and just prayed’

Alyjah Ritchie is a fisherman from Yarmouth who knows the captain of the Chief William Saulis, Charles Roberts. (CBC)

Alyjah Ritchie, a fisherman from Yarmouth, N.S., said Charles Roberts, the captain, is a family friend and carries the nickname Hot Dog around the wharf. 

Ritchie said he spoke to Roberts just a few days ago and didn’t want to believe it when he heard the boat was missing.

“But when I heard about it and I knew it was true, I just kind of put my head down and just prayed and hoped he was going to come home.”

Ritchie said Roberts is a good man and an experienced fisherman.

Charles Roberts, captain of the Chief William Saulis, is among the six people who were on board the boat that sent out an emergency beacon signal early Tuesday morning. (Facebook)

“Whatever happened, it had to have happened quick. It must have happened quick.”

Ritchie was heading out to fish for lobster on Wednesday morning. He said while the weather conditions are much better than they were Tuesday, the dangerous nature of the job sits in the back of his mind.

“But like everybody else, you’ve got to keep going forward.”

One of Canada’s deadliest industries

The Nova Scotia fishing community has had its share of tragedies, and the industry remains one of the most dangerous occupations in Canada.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said 2018 was the deadliest year in over a decade, with 17 people dying aboard fishing vessels — seven of them in Nova Scotia waters. Between 2011 and 2017, there were 63 fishing vessel deaths across the country.

In February 2013, five young Nova Scotian fishermen were killed when a wall of water crashed into the Miss Ally during a storm, capsizing the boat and rocking the small communities of Cape Sable Island and Woods Harbour.

The bodies of crew members Billy Jack Hatfield, Joel Hopkins, Katlin Nickerson, Steven Cole Nickerson and Tyson Townsend were never recovered.

The RJL scallop dragger also made headlines in 2010, when its four crew members were killed in the Bay of Fundy.

The Chief William Saulis scallop fishing vessel is seen in November 2020. (Katherine Bickford)

‘Trying to make sense out of something so tragic’

People living in the communities along the Fundy Shore are waiting anxiously as the search unfolds.

Susan Robinson-Bernie is a resident of Parks Cove. She has two fishermen in her family, who have been helping out with the search.

“If you’re not close to a fisher on the boat, you certainly know of these individuals around the wharves and in the other communities. Everybody knows somebody in the industry when you’re on board these vessels,” Robinson-Bernie told CBC’s Information Morning.

“So they’re coming together, talking to each other, just trying to make sense out of something so tragic.”

She said many families of fishermen, both past and present, are at the makeshift command centre at the Hillsburn United Baptist Church on Wednesday to show their compassion and support.

“Our communities have long-term fishermen for decades. They know the waters, they know the weather and they know the dangers,” she said. “So this comes close to home, hearts are extremely heavy.”

Weather warnings issued for area

A Hercules aircraft and a Cormorant helicopter from CFB Greenwood, along with three coast guard ships, were dispatched to help with the search, facing strong winds and high sea levels.

Environment Canada has issued another gale warning for the area on Wednesday, with winds reaching up to 35 knots. There is also a warning for freezing spray.

Ground search and rescue personnel support efforts from shore, while other fishing vessels have also joined to help with the search.

Owens said the search crews have rotated and are continuing to comb the area on Wednesday morning. He said while he hasn’t heard directly from the squadron, he suspects the crews would be affected by the situation.

“The search and rescue technicians that we have in the Canadian Forces are outstanding in how they conduct themselves and their focus during any search and rescue,” he said.

“But I’m sure it takes a bit of a toll on everyone to deal with a situation like we’re dealing with right now.”

Search crews comb the icy, rocky beach near Delaps Cove, N.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (CBC)

Search continues for people, debris

RCMP Cpl. Mike Carter said there are 25 to 35 personnel searching a 10-kilometre stretch of shore running east from Delaps Cove, an area being described as the “debris field.”

He said they are searching for people and anything “that may give us an idea what may have happened to this ship.”

“Nothing so far can be identified directly to that vessel. But we’re finding what appears to be fresh debris field, everything from life jackets to boots.”

Carter said they are covering off high-priority areas before the tide comes in over the next two to three hours. He said they will be able to access more of the beach when the tide drops again in the afternoon.

Search and rescue crews have been searching the area of Delaps Cove for over a day now. Late Tuesday evening, the Maritime Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre announced that the body of one of the six crew members had been found. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

He also said the rough seas on Tuesday and the temperature dropping to –10 C meant a lot of sea spray came up along the shore.

“A lot of the rocks are covered in salt and ice, so it makes very slippery, very hazardous conditions.”

Carter said Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are also offering their services on Wednesday.

The Chief William Saulis is owned by one of southwest Nova Scotia’s larger shellfish companies, Yarmouth Sea Products Limited. In addition to scallops, Yarmouth Sea Products is a major buyer of lobsters.

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