Twenty-eight Unifor members were rescued in high-wind conditions on March 2 after their vessel, the Atlantic Destiny, caught fire off the coast of Nova Scotia.
"There was no panic. The guys did their jobs and worked together. They performed perfectly," said Garfield Forward, deck hand aboard the Atlantic Destiny and Local 1944 member.
Garfield was off-shift and asleep when the fire alarm sounded. All hands immediately met on deck and went to work with fire extinguishers, but they proved ineffective and a fire suppression grenade had to be deployed to extinguish the fire.
After the fire was out it was discovered that the vessel was slowly taking on water in the engine room and the control panel that operated water pumps was inaccessible. At that stage the distress call was issued.
The nearby fishing vessel Cape Lahave where Forward's brother works was first on the scene. Approximately an hour later the Canadian Coast Guard plane from CFB Greenwood arrived and parachuted a rescuer onto the Atlantic Destiny.
The fishing vessel Maude Adams staffed by fellow Local 1944 members arrived two hours later to assist with the rescue efforts.
With the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, it took almost eight hours to evacuate the entire crew of the Atlantic Destiny, in part because of a malfunction in the Canadian Coast Guard rescue helicopter's winch cable. The crew were all taken to Yarmouth for food, shelter and medical attention.
In his 36 years at sea, Forward had never had to abandon ship, and is glad it went as smoothly as it did. His only moment of fear was being lifted to safety on the helicopter.
"I'm afraid of heights. I'm sure that my brother was watching from the Cape Lahave as nervous as I was," he said.
Local 1944 President Trevor Banfield credits the successful fire fighting and evacuation to the skill and training of the crew.
"I am so glad all members are safe. We have to give credit to the fact that they train for this before every shift on that vessel going out during every shift change," said Linda MacNeil, Atlantic Regional Director.
Despite salvage efforts the Atlantic Destiny could not be saved.
The Atlantic Destiny employed 60 Unifor members in all, as two 30-person crews rotate on three-week shifts. Banfield says he will be meeting with representatives of the employer, Ocean Choice International, to determine next steps.
"We're going to do everything in our power to help these skilled fish harvesters get safely back to work," said MacNeil.