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God put me on that dock, says NI nurse who tended to survivors of boat tragedy

By David Young

Published 29/10/2015

Sheila Simpson, who helped in the rescue effort
Sheila Simpson, who helped in the rescue effort
The bow of the Leviathan II off Vancouver Island yesterday

God put me on that dock, said a hero nurse from Northern Ireland who helped survivors of Canada's whale-watching boat tragedy.

Sheila Simpson said she was grateful for her nurse training when she found herself looking after some of those involved in the shocking incident off the west coast of Canada. Five Britons died in the maritime tragedy on Sunday - and an Australian man remains on the missing list.

All were on board the Leviathan II, which capsized off Tofino, Vancouver Island in British Columbia as they cruised in search of surfacing whales.

The boat is thought to have capsized after being hit by a wave.

It is believed that many of the whale-watchers were grouped together on one side of the boat - which it is reported may have made the vessel unstable.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Ms Simpson said: "God put me there on the dock - and thank God for my training in Omagh and in the Royal in Belfast.

"I just stepped into the place where I could be of assistance. The survivors who could walk up off the deck were shell-shocked - and I looked them in the eye and I put my hand to their back and I said, 'You are alive, you have survived'."

The former nurse also served time in a Canadian jail - being convicted for her part in a protest fighting to defend Clayoquot Sound - a virgin forest - from devastation by commercial logging firms.

She served a six-month sentence, plus another six months wearing a monitoring tag, according to her close friend Jane Woodbury.

Sheila, who is originally from Strabane but now lives on Denman Island - a small island on the landward side of Vancouver Island - staged a solo 200-mile 'Peace is Possible' march in Northern Ireland in 1990

"I am not full of airy-fairy ideas - but I am prepared to get out and do something," Sheila told the Belfast Telegraph as she began her peace march in 1990.

The former nurse sold her motorcycle in order to fund her peace march, which was "organised on a wing and a prayer", she said.

The march plan came to her after she took a degree in Peace Studies at Malispina University on Vancouver Island. Since moving to Canada, Sheila has become deeply involved in environmental activism and has written poetry.

Her friend Jane Woodbury said last night: "Sheila is a very remarkable woman - she makes me want to be Irish."

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