VICTORIA -- The Ahousaht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Canadian Coast Guard have launched a new response vessel, which will be staffed entirely by First Nation members.

The $214,000 response vessel was funded through the Canadian Coast Guard’s Indigenous Community Boat Volunteer Pilot Program, which was created to enhance marine safety in B.C., particularly in First Nation territories.

The 29-foot vessel is one of the first dedicated response vessels to be created through the program. It has a cruising speed of 32 knots, an estimated range of 400 nautical miles and will be staffed by more than 50 Indigenous people from the Ahousaht, Heiltsuk, Gitxaala, Nisgaa, Kitasoo, and Quatsino First Nations, according to the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard notes that the Ahousaht First Nation has long been a steward of the area and has historically been the first on scene for many marine emergencies.

In 2016, a whale-watching vessel sunk off the coast of Tofino, and members of the Ahousaht First Nation were among the first to respond.

Six people died in the accident, but 21 people were saved by Ahousaht First Nation members, as well as Tofino residents and other nearby whale-watching vessels.

"Our Government recognizes the critical role that First Nation communities have played for generations, protecting mariners, marine life and coastal ecosystems," said Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard in a release Wednesday.

"We’ll continue to work with Ahousaht First Nation and other coastal communities to protect Canada’s oceans from coast to coast to coast," she said.

Through the Coastal Nations Coast Guard Auxiliary (CN-CGA), volunteers are trained in search techniques, cold water rescue, marine first aid, inter-agency communications and more.

The response vessels are on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.