Light's out at coast guard station

Nine months after announcing its closure, the federal government has removed most of the equipment from the busiest coast guard base in Canada and locked the doors for good.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced in a notice to mariners Tuesday that the Kitsilano Canadian Coast Guard Station, which responded to about 350 calls a year, will no longer offer search-and-rescue services.

The announcement was made the same afternoon that the B.C. government was introducing its 2013-2014 budget in Victoria, surprising labour leaders who charged the closure showed disdain for the province.

But Gary Sidock, acting assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard's western region, said the timing was not politically motivated and only followed an exercise on Feb. 4 and another on Monday that showed a new search-and-rescue plan for Vancouver's harbour was operational.

"I made that declaration to the commissioner of the coast guard and recommended the closure of Kitsilano search and rescue station, our commitment being that we would only close it when there would be no increased risk to the public," he said.

"That was our assessment of my team, and I passed that on, and therefore that allowed for the closure of Kitsilano today."

Testing the new plan Monday was a coast guard hovercraft, as well as vessels from Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, Port Metro Vancouver, and police and fire departments, Sidock said.

Sidock said during the exercise, the hovercraft was actually dispatched to a real search and rescue.

He said the station officially closed at 1 p.m., and search-and-rescue services will now be handled by the coast guard base at Sea Island, in Richmond, which is 31 kilometres, or 35 minutes away, as well as the agencies involved in the exercise.

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