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Investigation into fatality onboard a Fisheries and Oceans Canada vessel

Working to free entangled whales, and in particular North Atlantic right whales, is an important but hazardous activity. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is taking the appropriate steps to ensure that the health and safety of anyone with access to our worksites continues to be of paramount importance. Any disentanglement operation involves serious risks. Each situation is unique and entangled whales can be unpredictable. Our objective is to ensure that future response operations proceed in the safest manner possible for everyone involved.

Last summer Joseph Howlett, from Campobello Island, New Brunswick tragically lost his life in a disentanglement operation involving a North Atlantic Right whale. Mr. Howlett was an experienced whale rescuer who helped free countless whales from entanglement. His expertise and dedication to helping entangled whales was widely recognized and greatly appreciated by the whale rescue community.

As a result of the findings of the Transport Canada labour code investigation, DFO conducted an internal review and prepared two documents: a Hazardous Occurrence Investigation Report conducted by the Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Branch; and a Management Acknowledgement and Response to the Hazardous Occurrence Investigation Report. DFO’s internal occupational health and safety investigation into the causes that contributed to the fatality provided an operational review and timelines surrounding the incident. The investigation also assessed protocols and authorities in granting third party access to a DFO vessel. From an operational perspective and given the circumstances surrounding the events, the report found no evidence that the Department could have prevented the incident. However, the investigation identified gaps in the process and administration of response activities.

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