Exercise gets a touch of realism

Newfoundland ferry disaster drill turns into real thing
Ken Meaney, CanWest News Service
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2007

A mock ferry disaster off Newfoundland’s west coast got a little too real Thursday when 21 people onboard a lifeboat were overcome by smoke.

In total, 14 people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation from fumes given off by fibreglass that became overheated when it got too close to the exhaust system onboard the lifeboat.

Two of those in more serious condition were airlifted to hospital in Corner Brook about 50 kilometres away. The others were brought to shore in coast guard vessels and sent by ambulance to hospital. All but three of the people sent to hospital were treated and released by late Thursday, said Brian Stone, superintendent of Maritime Search and Rescue.

The condition of the three, remaining in hospital, was not known.

The accident happened around noon on the last day of a two-day exercise as crews rehearsed an evacuation drill from a ferry in Newfoundland’s Bay of Islands. Stone said the exercise, a year in the planning, involved numerous authorities ranging from the coast guard to the Department of National Defence, RCMP, hospitals and ground search and rescue.

The exercise involved the Marine Atlantic ferry Leif Ericson, HMCS Moncton, the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Sir Wilfred Grenfell, other coast guard ships and DND and coast guard helicopters.

About 600 personnel were involved.

“The exercise involved a mechanical problem on a ferry, a subsequent explosion and abandonment into lifeboats, and then a search and rescue, bringing survivors to triage and then on to hospital,” Stone said.

Participants were attempting to improve co-ordination and communications between the various agencies involved and were testing a new radio system.

The exercise was immediately cancelled when the incident occurred, but Stone said three-quarters of its goal was achieved.

He said the real rescue operation went smoothly, and would likely be part of the debrief and analysis of the exercise.

An investigation into the incident is underway.


MV Leif Erickson is operated by Marine Atlantic, a Canadian federal government company. The 1991 Swedish built ship was built as the Stena Challenger – in memory of the NASA space shuttle disaster – then sold to Marine Atlantic in 2001 and renamed to Leif Erickson in honor of the explorer. More information can be found here.

On the picture to the right, you can see the enclosed lifeboat , on the passenger deck, looks like on the starboard quarter, inline with the funnel. The picture above is the ship hard aground in Calais France, in late summer of 1995.

GRT – 18,523 tons
Displacement – 5,556 tons
Dead Weight – 4,513 tons
Length overall 157.28 m
Beam 24.3 m
Draught 5.515 m
Passengers – 500
Automobiles – 250 or
Tractor trailers – 72
Main engines 2 X Sulzer 8 ZAL40S – 10,555 kW or 14,400 hp
Speed 18 knots
Propellers: 2 Ulstein Liaaen Controlable Pitch

This article has 1 Comment

  1. I expect that shipping can expect TC to be looking very hard at lifeboat exhaust systems after this. The SAR exercise organizers are very lucky to have lost no one from Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

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