The harbor, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, serves the bustling tourist town as well as the remote First Nations communities nearby. Seaplanes and water taxis bring members of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations to town for shopping, medical treatment and access to the rest of Vancouver Island; they also transport vital services, like nurses with COVID-19 vaccines, out of the port to remote communities.
At the same time, fishing boats and pleasure boats enter and leave the port.
Two recent seaplane accidents worry the Tribal Council, which represents 14 Vancouver Island First Nations.
Neither crash was fatal, although NTC President Judith Sayers was involved in the first crash, in July, and says she would have drowned if her son Cole, also on the flight, hadn’t had not acted quickly.
In an accident on October 18, the passengers were rescued by Ken Brown, a man from Ahousaht who also rescued 13 passengers when the whale watching boat MV Leviathan II capsized near Tofino in 2015, killing six people.
“We want to make sure people are safe,” said Mariah Charleson, NTC vice president.
“If it weren’t for the heroic efforts of our First Nations people who are, time and time again, the first on the scene of these tragic accidents, [the most recent crash] could have been good, much worse. ”
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council calls on Transport Canada to “review the laws, regulations and policies that govern the Port of Tofino and make changes to ensure a safer port.”
He says it is evident that the policies governing the port and its operation are not sufficient given two such serious incidents in such a short time.
While accidents are investigated by the Transportation Safety Board and sometimes result in improvements, the NTC says the matter is too urgent to wait for such reports, which can take more than a year before ‘be published.
Charleson says she is unsure of the answer to improving safety, but points out that the inner port of Victoria, B.C. has pylons and other measures to direct traffic, unlike Tofino. She says it is up to Transport Canada to find a way to improve the safety of what is a critical link for rural and remote communities.
Tofino Mayor Dan Law agrees. He says many of the people who fly to Tofino’s remote communities are “vital to the health and life of the area and the health of people all along the coast.”
“We have to make sure they can get to the communities and come back safely. ”
While Law says the port is, in general, safe, recent incidents bear witness to an increase in traffic of all kinds in the region: in the air, on the water and on the roads. He says this is a topic that needs to be addressed.
CBC News has contacted Transport Canada for comment, but has yet to receive a response.