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Questions linger for mother as monument erected for lost fishermen in Nova Scotia

The monument installed on Tuesday includes photos of the boat and all the crew members, and a bench will be added where walkers can rest and reflect

HALIFAX — Questions about how a scallop dragger sank suddenly in 2020 are lingering for a crew member's mother, who this week installed a stone monument close to where the boat was lost.  

The bodies of Aaron Cogswell, Leonard Gabriel, Dan Forbes, Geno Francis and captain Charles Roberts were never found after the sinking of the Chief William Saulis on Dec. 15, 2020.

The body of crew member Michael Drake came ashore near Delaps Cove — a coastal village about 50 kilometres north of Digby, N.S.

Lori Phillips, Cogswell’s mother, has worked alongside Darlene Roberts — the wife of the captain — to create a stone memorial to honour the men on a wilderness trail within sight of the coastal waters where the dragger went down.

A group of friends joined her to erect the memorial on Tuesday, with permission given by the Municipality of the County of Annapolis for use of the land.

Phillips says the site gives her solace, but she questions whether a Transportation Safety Board of Canada inquiry is making progress on what lay behind the sinking.

The RCMP called off the search to find the bodies of the lost men 14 months ago, and both the police and the Transportation Safety Board have resisted calls from family members to raise the boat — which sank in 60 metres of water. 

Phillips said in an interview on Thursday she's dealt with multiple Transportation Safety Board investigators on the file, and has grown concerned about whether they were able to carry out interviews with some of the fishers familiar with the vessel's condition.

"From what I gather it (the boat) passed inspection, but it broke down quite often. I would like to know about the maintenance reports," she said, adding she based her comments on conversations with four former crew members.

"I would like to have some answers," she said.

The safety board said in an email the investigator in charge of the investigation is not available for an interview, and that the board does not comment about ongoing investigations nor witness interviews. 

Gerard Doucet, the general manager of Yarmouth Sea Products, the owner of the vessel, said in an interview Friday that the boat had passed the Canadian Steamship Inspection for small commercial vessels, a Transport Canada system for safety certifications.

Doucet said former crew members have been interviewed by investigators with the provincial Labour Department, but he was unaware of whether the crew have been interviewed by the Transportation Safety Board.

Asked about the condition of the boat before the voyage, he declined comment. "I'm not rehashing all of that. I'm not going there .... Everything was up to date on the Canadian Steamship Inspection (safety) requirements," he said.

The monument installed on Tuesday includes photos of the boat and all the crew members, and a bench will be added where walkers can rest and reflect.

The top of the monument curves like a wave, and there are five painted scallop shells attached to the foot of the stone, recalling that five of the men's bodies were never found. 

"They are a reminder that, like seashells, the men are still in the ocean," Phillips said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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