POLITICS

Northeastern New Brunswick village mourning three fishermen lost at sea

05/19/2013 11:50 EDT | Updated 07/19/2013 05:12 EDT
TABUSINTAC NEW BRUNSWICK, - A minister of a United Church in a New Brunswick village says the community is in mourning after several weeks marred with tragedy for the local fishing industry, including the death of three fishermen.

Olive Ann Archibald of the Tabusintac Pastoral Church said the crowd at Sunday morning's service was "sombre," as search and rescue teams continued to comb the waters offshore for two missing fishermen.

Later that day around 4 p.m., the bodies of the two men, a 35-year-old man from Tabusintac and a 32-year-old man from Brantville, were located in an area near where their boat hit a sandbar in rough seas and started taking on water Saturday morning.

The lobster fishing vessel carrying three men had issued a distress call around 5:30 a.m. About eight hours later, the body of a 23-year-old man from Tracadie-Sheila was found near the site of the now-submerged boat.

Two weeks ago, five fishing boats were gutted by a fire at the Tabusintac Wharf.

The tight-knit community is now "broken," said Archibald.

"They were trying to get over the episode of the burning boats, and then this," she said in an interview on Sunday afternoon. "It's very hard on the whole community."

New Brunswick Conservative Serge Robichaud, who represents the Miramichi Bay-Neguac area in the legislature, said on Saturday that the captain of the vessel that ran aground had rented it after his fishing boat was destroyed in the May 5 blaze.

Chris Avery, chair of the Tabusintac Local Service District, said the fishermen have "paid the ultimate price."

"They were sons, husbands, fathers, and loved by so many," said Avery in an email on Sunday. "As we reflect on our own impermanence, let's hold dear and cherish those close to each of us.

"Hearts are heavy here."

It's a community where everyone knows everyone, said Archibald, and it seemed the entire village was helping with the search efforts for the fishermen.

"It injures everybody when that happens," said Archibald, who was also offering counselling for community members. "It was very rough yesterday on the waters. Today the water is so calm out there, it's almost scary."

The recovery effort for the men resumed at 7 a.m. on Sunday, with five search and rescue teams combing the shores of Tabusintac and nearby Neguac.

RCMP Const. Scott Messier said local fishing boats and community members on all-terrain vehicles tirelessly assisted in the search.

He said those fishermen and residents played an integral role in the recovery, providing the officers with invaluable knowledge of the area and using their boats to transport search teams.

"Without their help and knowledge, it would have made our effort much more difficult to accomplish," said Messier. "We can't thank them enough."

Messier said an underwater recovery team had also been searching the area where the fishing boat capsized, about five kilometres offshore of Tabusintac.

He said weather conditions were great for searching on Sunday — a stark contrast from the rain, snow and high winds experienced the day before.

A platoon from the military base CFB Gagetown was also deployed to the area to assist the Mountie's efforts.

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax called off their search around 3:45 p.m. Saturday, saying two Coast Guard vessels and a Cormorant helicopter had done all they could to find the remaining two fishermen.

The Transportation Safety Board was sending a team to investigate the incident.

It's not the first fishing tragedy to hit the Maritimes this year. In February, five young Nova Scotia fishermen were aboard the Miss Ally when it capsized during a violent storm more than 100 kilometres off the province's southwest shore.

By Aly Thomson in Halifax