‘It’s very perplexing’
Ferry captain had no sign fumes were making people sick
By WITH LAURA
NORTH SYDNEY— The captain of the Marine Atlantic ferry involved in a dramatic search and rescue drill that went awry this week said Friday his crew had no indication there was a problem with fumes that sent dozens of people to hospital.
Master Keith Hopkins said he only learned of Thursday’s incident after someone informed him that 21 people from a lifeboat from the ferry MV Leif Ericson had been taken to hospital in Corner Brook, N.L., complaining of smoke inhalation.
“I had no inkling that something was happening,” Hopkins said from the Ericson as it was docked in North Sydney.
“My crew members weren’t sick, and they were in the boat for almost two hours. It’s very perplexing.”
Hopkins said two of his crew were on board the lifeboat with 25 people participating in the mock search and rescue exercise off western Newfoundland.
Shortly after midday, several people were rushed to hospital for treatment and were later released. Two with more serious injuries were flown by helicopter to hospital and then airlifted to St. John’s for treatment.
By late Friday, all but one had been released. An official with the Eastern Health District said the remaining patient was in the intensive-care unit, but wouldn’t confirm what the patients were being treated for.
A doctor said Thursday there were concerns about smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hopkins said the exercise was proceeding perfectly as hundreds of people simulated a rescue from the Ericson and were transferred to coast guard vessels standing by.
His crew delivered the participants, then remained on the lifeboat for hours, Hopkins said, suffering no effects from fumes. They all had lunch and thought the matter was wrapped up, until Hopkins received a call informing him of the problem.
Roger Flood, president of Marine Atlantic, said Thursday he suspected fumes from the lifeboat’s exhaust may have caused the passengers to become ill.
Hopkins said there are always fumes from the boat’s engine that aren’t noxious or dangerous to people. He added that hatches were open to vent any fumes, but said he wasn’t dismissing claims that people were sick.
“I’m still trying to put it all together because I can’t believe this has happened,” he said. “It’s really unfortunate.”
Transport Canada sent investigators to North Sydney on Friday to inspect the ferry and lifeboats.
Maurice Landry, a spokesman with the federal agency, said officials will look at everything from logbooks to the actual exhaust system and interview the crew.
“What we’re trying to do is have a good understanding of the circumstances,” he said. “That involves talking to crew members, looking at equipment, looking at data. But it’s still early in our investigation.”
Transport Canada officials are investigating whether the ferry violated either the Canada Shipping Act or marine occupational health and safety codes.
With Laura Fraser, Cape Breton Bureau
‘It’s very perplexing’