Lake Erie ferry runs aground on sandbar in channel near landing

Passengers spent an unplanned night aboard a Canadian ferry in Lake Erie after it ran aground on its regular run from Pelee Island to the Ontario mainland.

The 199-foot Jiimaan, with 16 crewmembers and 18 passengers, was approaching the Kingsville Harbour dock in high winds when it ran up on a sandbar on Oct. 11, 2012.

“We were all sort of standing around waiting for the ‘please return to your vehicles’ announcement because we were very nearly at the dock … and then we weren’t moving anymore,” passenger Erin Moffat said. “There was no jolt or shock or anything like that.”

Reports from the company at the time were that high winds had lowered water levels moved sand into the channel used on the approach.

The weather was clear at the time, said Susan Schrempf, president and chief executive of Owen Sound Transportation Co., owner of the ferry. The sea state was rough, with swells at 7 to 10 feet and a southwest wind of 27 to 30 knots.

Schrempf said water levels in western Lake Erie were one to two inches below chart datum at the time of the grounding at 1352, a drop of almost 24 inches from 0800 that same day.

Upon receiving the grounding report, the Canadian Coast Guard tasked CCGS Cape Dundas from Amherstburg, Ontario, and Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary vessel Colchester Guardian from Colchester, Ontario.

The Coast Guard considered evacuating the passengers, but rescue coordinators determined the safest course of action was for the passengers to remain on board. Passengers settled in for the night.

“We were on board for a total of 25 hours. It wasn’t comfortable, no, but it was as comfortable as it could be given the circumstances,” Moffat said. “We were provided with pillows and blankets. Some people slept in chairs or on the floor, while others were able to get beds in the crew quarters. My husband and I were lucky enough to be in the latter category by virtue of being able-bodied enough to climb into the top bunks, but still old enough that they figured the younger truck driver guys could be the ones to sleep on the floor.”

Moffat said the crew treated the passengers very well.

“The crewmembers were awesome the whole time. They took good care of us and were always checking that we had everything we needed,” she said. “We had lots to eat. The mood of the passengers was pretty positive overall. You could tell that some people weren’t happy with the situation obviously. … There was never any fear, we never felt like we were in any sort of danger.”

On Oct. 12, after an inspection by divers, Jiimaan was freed by the Great Lakes Towing tug Wyoming. It proceeded under its own power to Leamington, Ontario, where passengers disembarked.

Schrempf said the company has not completed an internal investigation into the incident and therefore does not have a definitive answer to why the vessel ran aground at this time. Schrempf said that there was no mechanical failure, nor was the vessel damaged in the grounding.

Capt. Amanda Slade, Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigator, told Professional Mariner in November that field work was still being conducted.

“Causes and contributing facts have yet to be determined, however preliminary information leads us to look at a combination of environmental and safety management factors,” Slade said.

By Professional Mariner Staff