Canadian ferry operator faces charges after collision with small boat

A Newfoundland ferry captain has been charged with failing to maintain a proper lookout after a collision with a small fishing boat.

Matthew Whalen, the captain of Marine Voyager, was charged under the Canada Shipping Act in January. The collision happened Oct. 2, 2010, near Burgeo, Newfoundland.

Burgeo resident John Barter said he was fishing from his 18.5-foot fiberglass vessel, which was anchored off Boar Island about 1,600 feet from the Burgeo wharf. Puddister Trading Co.’s 93-foot Marine Voyager, a passenger and cargo vessel, struck Barter’s boat.

Marine Voyager was en route to the island community of Ramea. It was then scheduled to proceed to Francois on Newfoundland’s south coast.

Barter told Professional Mariner he saw the ferry approach and fully expected it to veer around him, but instead struck him with its side and did not stop.

“The ferry left the wharf and she come on down straight for me and struck me and kept on going,” Barter said. “I could see right in the wheelhouse and there was nobody at the wheel. I would assume that they were on automatic pilot and gone for coffee or something.”

Transport Canada investigated the incident and charged Whalen with failing to keep a proper lookout, said Transport Canada spokeswoman Hannah Mahoney. The charges are for regulatory contravention and are not criminal.

Barter said visibility wasn’t in question. “It was clear at the time,” he said. “I saw the ferry when it left the wharf; it was perfect visibility. If there was a seagull on the water you could have seen it.”

Barter said his boat leaks now. He expects the company to pay for repairs.

The International Regulations for Prevention of Colllision at Sea require vessel operators to keep watching their surroundings.

“Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision,” Rule 5 states.

Whalen is scheduled to appear in court May 4. For such a violation, the maximum penalty is a CAD $1 million fine ($1.03 million) or 18 months in prison, or both.

Art Puddister, spokesman for Puddister Trading, said the company conducted an internal investigation into the collision. Because the matter is before the courts, he declined to comment until the court has rendered a decision.

Transport Canada declined further comment until all legal proceedings have concluded.

Marine Voyager was built in 1964 by Allied Shipbuilders of Vancouver. It is powered by two diesel engines with a combined power of 746 kilowatts delivering a propulsion speed of 10.5 knots.

Michel Drouin

By Professional Mariner Staff