Willie Aglukkaq is grateful to have been rescued after his boat’s motor malfunctioned but he still feels abandoned after the subsequent loss of his equipment.
Aglukkaq and three others climbed aboard his 20-foot Silver Dolphin and made off to Montreal Island for a caribou hunt on Sept. 30. As they were approaching the island – 88 km south of Gjoa Haven – Aglukkaq’s recently-repaired 175-horsepower Suzuki outboard motor quit on him. He was carrying a GPS device so he pressed the SOS button and the crew of the nearest available boat confirmed by radio that they would come to the aid of the stranded hunters.
The rescue craft arrived the next day.
“They decided that they wanted to rush back. I asked them to help me pull my boat farther onto land just so nothing would happen to it,” Aglukkaq recounted.
He said one of the rescue crew insisted on leaving immediately, saying they would return the following day to deal with Aglukkaq’s broken-down vessel. However, the rescue boat was pulled out of the water for the season the next day.
“I was left with no transportation to get back, pretty much,” Aglukkaq said.
It took him a week to return to Montreal Island, borrowing his son’s 18-foot boat to get there. He found his own boat had flipped over in the water, likely due to the storm. Sustained high winds and blowing snow reportedly lasted for a couple of days after the rescue.
“I was a bit upset that they forced us to go back without helping us with our equipment. That equipment cost a lot of money,” said Aglukkaq, who puts an estimated value of at least $40,000 on his boat and motor, which weren’t insured, plus another several thousand for other lost equipment, such as radios, hunting gear, tools, and gas cans.
“It kind of feels like they didn’t do as much as they could to help,” he said. “They had good intentions but it backfired on them. It turned bad.”
Others needing help
One of the members of the rescue crew was a Queen’s University researcher, on contract, who filed an incident report to the university, including transcripts of the radio calls throughout the ordeal. Although Queen’s would not release the full logs, which a university spokesperson said are property of a third party, the post-secondary institution turned over a summarized report.
It indicates that the rescue boat not only picked up Aglukkaq and the members of his hunting party, but also had to make a trip to an island near Richardson Point, where another boater and passengers were stranded. Over the course of 11 hours, the rescue vessel collected seven people and returned to Gjoa Haven at 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 2.
The report also states that bad weather was bearing down, making it unfeasible to tow either of the broken-down boats back to Gjoa Haven. In addition, some members of the rescued parties expressed that they were eager to get back to their home community as soon as possible, said spokesperson Lindsey Fair, associate director of marketing and communications at Queen’s. She described the scene as “high anxiety” due to the “imminent danger” posed by the looming storm.
The reason that the rescue boat was pulled out of the water soon after returning to Gjoa Haven was because it too sustained engine damage during the journey, according to the report.
“Part of the crew are community members. They didn’t mean hardship to (Aglukkaq). In fact, that’s why they were being good Samaritans in the first place,” Fair said.
She added that the researcher on the rescue boat is also willing to help Aglukkaq pursue some sort of resolution from the company that repaired his outboard motor.
The Canada Shipping Act requires – for fear of a $1 million fine or 18 months in jail – that the master of a nearby vessel “render assistance to every person who is found at sea and in danger of being lost.” The law does not apply to saving property.
Programs for harvesters
Aglukkaq can file an application for financial assistance from the Government of Nunavut. The Department of Environment’s Disaster Compensation Program offers up to $10,000 per incident to aid hunters and trappers “who suffer the loss of, or damage to, harvesting equipment or property due to a natural weather event or disaster.”
He is also hopeful that the Kitikmeot Inuit Association may be an avenue for compensation.
“It’s basically a write-off because my boat got banged up so bad on the rocks and the motor is in the water,” Aglukkaq said. “That was my livelihood. I love boating and I do a lot of seal hunting during the summer months. All summer I’d be fishing and hunting caribou with the equipment that I lost.”