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    Remembering the Avataq

    Karen Mackenzie
    Northern News Services
    Published Wednesday, August 20, 2008

    RANKIN INLET - Huddled beneath the rain and grey skies, family and friends met last week to commemorate the loss of four Kivalliq men who perished on the Avataq eight years ago.

    A crowd of close to 70 gathered on Rankin Inlet's Itivia Hill last Thursday to remember the marine tragedy and acknowledge the new ship that now bears the Avataq name.

    NNSL Photo/Graphic

    Rose Ussak and Catherine Pilakapsi unveil a plaque commemorating the crew of the Avataq, who perished in a gale in August 2000 just south of Arviat. Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping laid the plaque on Rankin Inlet's Itivia Hill, in memory of the tragedy. - Karen Mackenzie/NNSL photo

    The event, which was hosted by Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping Inc. (NEAS), marked the unveiling of a plaque on the hill featuring the names and story of crew members Sandy Sateana Jr., David Kadjak, Larry Ussak and boat captain Louis Pilakapsi.

    The weather was fitting for the occasion, Jose Kusugak pointed out to the crowd.

    "We have mourned an awful lot for the four people who perished," he said.

    "We're happy that it is not forgotten," said Hannah Pilakapsi, whose father captained the ill-fated ship.

    She and her sister, Debbie Baker, both attended the afternoon ceremony, and said they will likely visit the site again, especially once the hamlet cleans up the old dump nearby.

    "It's very nice of them to do this," Baker said. "It brings us more together."

    From this vantage point, visitors can look across to the ocean, the town and the sea lift staging area.

    This is the second shipping season for the new ship Avataq, but her first servicing the Kivalliq region.

    "That's why we are holding this ceremony now, we knew it was the right way to do it," said Suzanne Paquin, vice president of NEAS.

    The name had been chosen for the new ship - a 113 metre-long container vessel - before they knew of the Rankin connection, according to Paquin.

    "When we learned of it, we spoke with the families and they gave us permission," she explained.

    The old Avataq was a small fishing vessel contracted to ship construction materials and propane tanks from Churchill, Man., to Arviat through Hudson Bay.

    In August 2000, about 10 nautical miles south of Arviat, it met with gale force winds. The crew soon radioed that the vessel was taking on water and her bilge pump had failed.

    All four men perished.

    A report by the Transport Safety Board of Canada later found that a heavy cargo load may have made the boat more likely to destabilize, and that it wasn't properly inspected, among other factors.

    A number of changes were later made to the way work is conducted on the water around Nunavut.

    Transport Canada met with the Government of Nunavut, and agreed to translate the Ship Regulations Guide into Inuktitut.

    Vessels of 25 metres were required to carry life rafts which would float when a ship sank.

    Smaller vessels - of Avataq's size - were required to carry boosted radio capabilities.

    An Inuktitut marine safety radio service was also founded.