The two-person bridge crew of the ferry Queen of the North failed to execute a standard 18° turn to port 14 minutes before the vessel ran aground on rocks off Gill Island on March 22, 2006, according to a report issued by BC Ferries.
After the impact, the ferry drifted for approximately one hour and 18 minutes before sinking, according to the report issued in March 2007. Of the 101 people aboard, 99 were able to abandon ship safely, but two passengers went down with the ferry. The vessel was southbound on British Columbia’s Inside Passage from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on a regularly scheduled run and was making 17.5 knots when it hit the rocks.
Investigators sent a submersible ROV to the wreck at a depth of 1,410 feet to recover the computer and hard drive containing data from the ferry’s electronic chart system. That data allowed investigators to reconstruct the vessel’s heading and speed.
Before the sinking, “all electrical navigational equipment in the wheelhouse was operating within normal limits,” the report stated.
The report suggested that watchstanding practices on the bridge were not strict. “A casual watchstanding behavior was practiced at times when operating the Queen of the North based on evidence given by the Senior Master and further demonstrated by music playing on the bridge overheard on radio calls” during other voyages, the report said.
On the night of the incident, Prince Rupert Traffic Service noted a background of music on four occasions and “noises” on three occasions during radio transmissions from the ferry between 22:37:23 and 00:04:11.
The report also contained information suggesting the crew did not have a precise sense of their location when the ferry ran aground. The report noted that at 00:23:48 the ferry crew sent a “we have run aground” message but was only able to give its position as “several miles south of Sainty Point.” At 00:27:08 the crew reported their location at the “south end of Sainty Point. And we are aground and our list is increasing.” At 00:27:23 the ferry more accurately reported its location as being “aground near Juan Point” on Gill Island across Wright Sound from Sainty Point.
Published reports have raised the possibility of sexual activity on the bridge involving the male fourth officer and helmswoman. The Victoria Times Colonist newspaper quoted BC Ferries President David Hahn as saying, “Anything is possible, but I don’t believe it. But why they weren’t paying attention I don’t know.”
On advice of legal counsel, the fourth officer and the helmswoman have refused to provide detailed accounts of the events on the bridge that night, according to press reports.
The report described the extensive damage done to the hull by the grounding. Striking the rocky shoreline resulted in severe damage with “at least three serious starboard side hull breaches in three separate compartments” from bow to stern, the report said. Machinery spaces flooded rapidly.
The BC Ferries report is far from the last word on the accident. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada are continuing their investigations of the grounding.