The officer in charge of the bridge during Queen of the North’s fatal accident in 2006 has been convicted of criminal negligence.
Two passengers were missing and presumed drowned after the BC Ferries vessel struck a rock and sank March 22, 2006. Karl Lilgert was the fourth officer on Queen of the North and was in the wheelhouse with the quartermaster when the ship missed a scheduled turn at Sainty Point in Wright Sound. The vessel collided with Gil Rock adjacent to Gil Island on British Columbia’s North Coast.
The vessel was on a routine trip from Prince Rupert on the North Coast to Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island. Of the 101 passengers and crew aboard, 99 abandoned ship and were rescued, but passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette were never found.
The survivors were plucked from lifeboats and rafts by fishing vessels in the area, Coast Guard responders and residents from the nearby First Nations community of Hartley Bay. They were taken to Hartley Bay for preliminary care before being taken to Prince Rupert.
In 2008, a Transportation Safety Board of Canada report into the sinking attributed the mishap to human error and determined that a “conversation of a personal nature” was among the factors that distracted Lilgert from his duties. The report said Lilgert and the quartermaster had not followed the “basic principles of safe navigation” in navigating the vessel.
On May 13, 2013, a jury in Vancouver convicted Lilgert of criminal negligence causing death. During the nearly four-month trial, the 59-year-old defendant testified that he was attempting to navigate through rough weather and avoid two other vessels when the vessel struck Gil Rock.
At the trial, evidence from Queen of the North’s electronic chart system, which kept a record of the ship’s position and course, showed that the ship traveled in a straight line from the position where it should have changed course and instead headed straight for Gil Island with no change in course or speed.
Evidence at the trial reached soap-opera proportions as it confirmed that Lilgert and the quartermaster had recently broken up after a sexual affair that the two had conducted aboard ship. The Crown prosecutors in the case suggested that Lilgert neglected his duties. They said Lilgert missed the turn and then failed to take any action to avoid the island or even slow the ferry down because he was distracted by the quartermaster, either because they were arguing or having sex. Lilgert denied the accusation.
Lilgert’s lawyer argued that Lilgert’s work was hampered by poor training, unreliable equipment, inadequate staff policies within BC Ferries and the poor weather. His defense argued that the system, not Lilgert, should be blamed for the crash.
Lilgert was scheduled to be sentenced in early summer. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment. His lawyer has indicated that he intends to appeal the conviction.