U.S. Coast Guard to suspend search for Canadian 'Sharkwater' filmmaker

 04 Feb 2017 - 8:20

U.S. Coast Guard to suspend search for Canadian 'Sharkwater' filmmaker
(FILES) This file photo taken on September 9, 2013 shows filmmaker Rob Stewart arriving at the Entertainment One Celebrates 29 Films At TIFF during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival at The Roundhouse in Toronto, Canada. AFP /Jemal Countess

By Jon Herskovitz

The U.S. Coast Guard will suspend at sunset on Friday a three-day search for award-winning Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart, an environmental activist who went missing after a deepwater dive off the southern Florida coast.

A Coast Guard official indicated in a news conference that the odds of finding him alive have greatly diminished.

Stewart, 37, went missing on Tuesday after a deepwater dive to retrieve an anchor. His dive partner collapsed after returning to the boat, while Stewart, who signaled he was OK when he surfaced, later disappeared, his parents said.

"The decision to suspend the search is very difficult. It is not made lightly," Coast Guard Captain Jeffrey Janszen, commander Sector Key West, told the news conference, adding the dive partner survived the incident.

He said a Coast Guard airplane is making one last pass over a part of the search area, which is about the same size as the state of Connecticut, and that would conclude the search. He added that the parents of the filmmaker have been notified of the decision.

The U.S. Navy, Customs and Border Protection, Florida wildlife officials, a county sheriff's office and civilian volunteers have joined the Coast Guard in the search for Stewart, using ships, helicopters, airplanes, dive teams and sonar equipment, the Coast Guard said.

Rob Stewart's 2006 documentary "Sharkwater" was aimed at exposing the shark hunting industry that was feeding demand for fins, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. The hunting has ravaged shark populations and the film  was part of a campaign that helped persuade some governments to crack down on "finning." 

With finning, typically the fins are cut off and the live shark is tossed back into the sea. Unable to swim properly, the shark suffocates or is killed by predators. 

Stewart said his new film was looking at other ways that as many as 80 million sharks were being harvested each year for items ranging from cosmetics to pet food.

"Sharks are sophisticated, intelligent and often shy creatures that aren't interested in eating humans," he said in a video seeking funding for his new movie.