B.C. marine pilots scramble to find PPE as they navigate through COVID-19 crisis

Marine pilots who help guide foreign vessels to dock are worried about having enough personal protection equipment (PPE) to keep themselves and others safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

Robin Stewart, president of BC Coast Pilots Ltd., notes that marine pilots, who help international vessels navigate through B.C.’s ports and waterways, are often the first to make contact with crews from other countries, leaving them in unchartered waters during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This was different,” Stewart said. “Our families felt vulnerable. The pilots felt concerned.”

An integral part of the supply chain, crucial shipments would be unable to make it to port without B.C. coast pilots in the wheelhouse of visiting ships.

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Like many essential services on the front lines, Stewart says access to PPE is crucial.

Bei Linda Tang, the owner of Dream Designs and wife of a marine pilot, is trying to stitch together a stop-gap measure, using her bedding and drapery factory to make non-medical organic cotton masks for B.C. coast pilots and others.

“He’s dealing with all these strangers, and we are worried about him bringing the virus home,” Tang said of her husband, Capt. Steve Kennedy.

“We’re in this crisis right now. What can we do to help people? And for us it’s to just make masks as quickly as we can and get it out there.”

Tang knows medical-grade masks would provide protection and she still hopes the marine pilots who are navigating through this pandemic to keep the supply chain moving, will not be forgotten.

“Masks during a pandemic is essentially like wearing seat-belts or a helmet or a lifejacket,” she said.

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