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Canadian Coast Guard Ship Named for Heroic Chief

A new Canadian Coast Guard vessel will be plying the waters off Canada’s west coast, proudly named after a heroic Nuu-chah-nulth hereditary chief.

The 141-foot (43-meter) Hero Class Mid-Shore Patrol Vessel has been named the CCGS M. Charles after the late Martin Charles—a hereditary chief who led a small Coast Guard crew on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Charles was awarded the Medal of Bravery in 1976 for his role in leading the rescue of a fishing boat and helicopter crew on the same night.

It had been a stormy February night when a May Day call came into the Bamfield Coast Guard Station from a 50-foot (15-meter) Herring Seiner than had run into trouble in the roiling waters off of Cape Beale. The four-member crew of Martin Charles, his son Clifford, Officer-in-Charge David Christney and Bob Amos headed toward the call in their lifeboat and quickly pulled two hypothermic fishermen from the water. A third crewmember from the seiner was spotted atop a 30-foot-high (nine-meter) rock, where he’d been deposited by a large wave.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter from Port Angeles offered assistance and was soon on scene to pluck the stranded crewman from the rock.

As Martin and his crew left the area to search for the missing seiner captain, they watched as the helicopter lifted off, then suddenly plunged straight down into the water. They turned the lifeboat around and quickly rescued the two airmen on the helicopter, along with the man the two had rescued minutes before.

They rushed all five men to the Bamfield Red Cross Hospital. The captain was never found.

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All four Coast Guard crewmen were recognized by both the Canadian and American governments for their bravery.

Charles remained with the Bamfield Coast Guard Station until retiring after 32 years of continued heroic service. At a ship dedication ceremony in Port Alberni last month, Martin’s son Clifford Charles spoke about his late father, and the pleasure it had been to work with him in the Coast Guard.

“I have no idea how many lives he saved and people he helped out of difficult situations on the water,” said Clifford Charles, who also served with the Coast Guard for 37 years before retiring in 2005. “All I know was when he was with us we knew everything was going to be okay, and it took a lot of stress out of the situation.”

Clifford’s daughter Sheila, Martin Charles’s granddaughter, christened the boat by smashing a bottle of champagne on its steel bow. Then Nuu-chah-nulth singers and dancers blessed the ship in a special ceremony, brushing the entire vessel with cedar boughs.

The M. Charles is one of six similar Hero Class ships built in Halifax for the Canadian Coast Guard. With a crew of 14 Coast Guard members, its role will be to patrol Canada’s Pacific boundaries to enhance national security, conduct surveillance of fisheries operations and discourage drug smuggling and fish poaching.

“I’m so proud that my dad will be remembered long after I’m gone,” said 64-year old Clifford. “That ship will last at least another 30 years and will play a huge role in saving lives and keeping mariners safe at sea.”

The CCGS M. Charles will be based in Sidney, British Columbia, on southern Vancouver Island and will begin operations this summer.