Atlantic sonar tech company says RCMP declined offer to help find scallop dragger

A leading ocean technology company in Atlantic Canada is disappointed and baffled that authorities in Nova Scotia turned down its offer to search for a sunken scallop dragger.

Kraken Robotics offered to deploy its ultra-high-resolution sonar system in effort to find the Chief William Saulis, which went down last month in stormy seas near Digby, N.S., with six men on board.

Of those six, only the body of one crew member has been recovered. It’s believed at least some of the other bodies may still be on board.

“We just wanted to help. And that’s what’s confounding us,” said Karl Kenny, CEO and president of Kraken Robotics.

The torpedo-shaped sonar device, shown in 2018, sends sound pulses through water and converts the returning echoes into digital images.  (CBC)

Kenny said the company was not looking to be compensated for the work.

“We have the capability. Let’s offer it to the authorities to be able to go out and find that vessel. And once we find the vessel, perhaps we can help bring some closure to the families,” Kenny told CBC News from his company’s headquarters in St. John’s, N.L.

RCMP say they have what they need

Sgt. Andrew Joyce, a spokesperson for the RCMP, said the force frequently gets offers to assist in high-profile cases. He said the force may still take Kraken up on its offer, but for now it has the resources it needs, including sonar.

“I think we have access to that capability internally. And from speaking to the persons on the ground, they feel that the next immediate steps that must be taken are currently resourced to a satisfactory level,” he said.

Kenny said he could not comment on what resources the RCMP have deployed, but he asserted Kraken is uniquely positioned to perform the type of sophisticated search needed in this case.

“Nothing like this capability exists within the Canadian authorities fleet,” he said.

Karl Kenny says his company ‘just wanted to help’ and did not expect to be compensated for the work. (CBC)

Kraken’s towed, torpedo-shaped sonar device sends sound pulses through water and converts the returning echoes into digital images. 

The product is best known for its use by navies looking for mines, but it has also located historical wrecks, including a Second World War bomber off the coast of Iceland.

Sonar system ready to go

Kraken’s senior vice-president of engineering, David Shea, said the company’s sonar system and a launch vessel were ready to go from its wharf in Dartmouth, N.S., where it has an unmanned marine vehicle operation.

It had just completed some sea trials when the dragger went down Dec. 15.

“This was something where we were in the right place. We have the equipment. This is something very near and dear to our hearts,” said Shea.

The RCMP, he said, were appreciative of the offer, but turned it down again as recently as this week.

David Shea is Kraken’s senior vice-president of engineering. (CBC)

Kenny and Shea said it’s time to integrate advanced sonar technology in the response to tragedies at sea.

“No one from Kraken is trying by any means to throw anybody under a bus here,” said Kenny.

“We hope that beyond this incident that they’ll come over and have a look at this capability. We need to fix this.”

For Kenny, the issue has a personal connection. 

His grandfather was a schooner captain who drowned off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in 1935. His body was never recovered — only a single mitten.

“My mother went through that experience and our family has never forgotten about it,” he said.

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