Search for missing Mary's Harbour fishermen resumes with aid of military, coast guard

·6 min read
Marc Russell, left, and Joey Jenkins aboard the Island Lady. The pair was last heard from around 4 p.m. on Friday. (Submitted/Dwight Russell  - image credit)
Marc Russell, left, and Joey Jenkins aboard the Island Lady. The pair was last heard from around 4 p.m. on Friday. (Submitted/Dwight Russell - image credit)

The search for two missing fishermen from Mary's Harbour has resumed with the help of the Canadian Armed Forces and the coast guard Monday, after the official search off the coast of southern Labrador was called off Sunday night.

In a Facebook post Monday, Labrador MP Yvonne Jones wrote that an RCAF maritime patrol plane and a coast guard vessel are now assisting in the search under the authorization of federal ministers after the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax decided to end its search.

"After many hours overnight with the family, coast guard, the federal [and] provincial ministers and pressing forward, the JRCC would still not revert back to SAR and maintained their position to move to recovery operations," wrote Jones.

"I have been assured that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will be continuing to assist RCMP and other partners in this effort. All support needed will be provided.… I am also assured that all other support will be provided and coordinated as required by the RCMP."

The JRCC tweeted around 9 p.m. Sunday that it had suspended the search for the Island Lady following more than 48 hours of searching an area off Mary's Harbour spanning 4,500 nautical square miles, in an effort that involved "a significant number" of aircraft and vessels.

'We've lost valuable time'

Two men from Mary's Harbour, Marc Russell and Joey Jenkins, were aboard the Island Lady. Shortly after the search first ended Sunday, Russell's father asked in a Facebook post for the search to be extended by 24 hours.

Dwight Russell told CBC News Monday afternoon he and other family members and searchers wanted that extra day to be able to bridge from a JRCC-led effort into a localized one, but that didn't happen.

"It's a duplication of services that could have just been continued, but we've lost valuable time," said Russell.

WATCH | Marc Russell's family speaks about the search for the missing fishermen

Marc Russell's mother held a picture of her son as she said Monday's federal election played a role in the search disruption. The family said they pressed federal departments like the office of the prime minister, and had politicians tell them the search would continue — just as the JRCC called it off.

"We feel lost within the process. There's a breakdown of information somewhere," Jeanette Russell said.

Submitted by Jeanette Russell
Submitted by Jeanette Russell

CBC News has asked the JRCC and Canadian Coast Guard for comment.

The search for the fishing vessel and its crew began Friday evening after it did not return to port by 5 p.m. NT. Russell said the crew had called in to the local fish plant shortly before that to say they were coming home with their catch, and Jenkins had also placed a call to his partner.

"Whatever happened from that point on, we don't know," said Russell.

Local fishing crews were first out on the water, and joined a few hours later by the JRCC, Canadian Coast Guard, PAL Airlines and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Dozens protest called-off search

Jeannette Russell asked earlier Monday for people to protest the end of the official search.

"Please just help us find our boys, so we can bring them home," she said.

On Monday afternoon more than 70 people holding signs and chanting did exactly that, blocking the entrance to coast guard headquarters in downtown St. John's

"That could be you or me one day," said Nick Windsor, holding a sign over his head that read "Continue the Search."

"Whether it's a car accident or on a boat, we want to be rescued. To see them being left alone, that's the worst feeling you could ever feel in this world."

Despite repeated attempts at the front gate, the demonstrators couldn't get the attention of anyone inside.

"This office here, to ignore us the way they are, that just shows what our government is actually like," said Windsor.

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

MHA Lisa Dempster spoke to the crowd through a megaphone, calling the situation "an emotional time for everyone."

The representative for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair says she made calls to try and get a meeting with the JRCC, but was told that couldn't happen due to ongoing federal election.

"This is about saving lives," Dempster said to the crowd.

"What happens when governments go into election mode. Do we stop searching for people? No we don't."

In a joint statement, provincial Fisheries Minister Derrick Bragg and Justice Minister John Hogan said the province is doing everything it can to support search efforts.

According to the statement the Emergency Services Division of the Department of Justice and Public Safety has been working with Canadian Coast Guard officials, the JRCC, the Marine Rescue Sub-Centre and others since Saturday morning. The ESD offered rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft to aid in the search.

The statement said when the RCMP took over the search on Sunday night, the ESD engaged with the RCMP, Government Air Services and a volunteer group called the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association. On Monday morning, a government water bomber was deployed from Deer Lake.

Boat not found

The demonstrators, many with ties to the Russell and Jenkin's families or Labrador, held signs pleading to extend the search by 24 hours, arguing weather had posed a challenge for search teams earlier this weekend.

"The first day of searching was hampered by wind and fog, and we felt that enough wasn't done," Dwight Russell said Monday morning.

A single blue fishing tub was found Sunday, with a second tub and some fishing buckets found later. The items are believed to be from the Island Lady.

But Russell said the search hasn't turned up anything that conclusively proves the boat sank, or that the men went into the water.

"We haven't found any part of the boat or the life ring. There was survival suits aboard the boat. We haven't seen any of that," he said. "They would have floated to the surface if something happened, we would think."

Russell thanked all those who helped search and support so far — more than half a dozen Labrador communities held vigils for the men Saturday night — but said there was "a dire lack of resources to address this situation."

"We're angry at the situation, but we're not angry at anyone in particular ... we're just asking for some humanity to this situation," said Jeanette Russell.

"I could understand if these vessels were needed in a search somewhere else. That would be totally understandable. But ... there are no other events right now where they are needed."

Dwight Russell said the current crisis shines a light on a severe shortage of search and rescue services along Labrador's coast.

"We need public pressure to change all this ... I want to bring my son home. We want to bring Joey home... it should never have come to this," he said.

On Twitter, the JRCC said the matter has now been turned over to the RCMP as a missing persons at sea case.

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