Queen of the North is about to make the news again

This article in the Globe and Mail caught my eye. Ms Hunter gives us some insight and pokes at the parties who I believe should feel uncomfortable, when the TSB report on the Queen of the North ferry sinking last year. The article gives us some pretty good overview of ferry operators in the region as well.

I am familiar with Bob Beadell, an avid sports enthusiast and all around decent guy, and I can certainly understand his frustration, in particular at the time that report came out. Europe was stunned by some major ferry casualties with plenty of victims. So sadly, he ends up to be proven right.

I like this David Hahn character, he reminds me of that Iraq Minister of Information (or whatever) before Jr. had it in for them, “every thing is fine, bla bla bla” – and ranting and raving about the facade that was Saddam’s regime.

Unfortunately the proof is in the pudding as they say…. and when “B.C. Ferries maintains that its ships are safe and its safety record is excellent.”; I would feel awkward to say that with a straight face.


Design of two ferries under scrutiny
Ships have same structure that prompted warnings about Queen of the North years before it sank

By JUSTINE HUNTER, September 29, 2007, The Globe and Mail

VICTORIA — The striking image shows the passenger ferry Queen of the North capsized, a chilling warning of the potential for a huge loss of life.

But it’s not 2006; it’s 1998. The “what-if” scenario was produced by marine engineering consultants who studied the stability of the ship in case of an accident. The analysis, obtained by The Globe and Mail, was delivered to the vessel’s owner, B.C. Ferries, to prompt safety upgrades.

“I feel very strongly that we should not be sailing this vessel in her present state,” the marine engineer who commissioned the report warned his bosses at B.C. Ferries at the time.

But the company did not follow the key recommendation and the 1998 report languished.
And Transport Canada continues to certify the ships while it drafts new regulations to improve their safety.

Now, with a final report on the Queen of the North’s fatal 2006 sinking expected as early as next week, the safety of two other B.C. Ferries ships – the Queen of Prince Rupert and the Queen of Chilliwack – which also have a single-compartment hull construction, is being called into question.

The Transportation Safety Board is set to deliver its findings on the Queen of the North next month, in a report that will shed light not only on the 2006 accident, but on how the ferry service that moves 22 million people every year manages risk.

The Queen of the North was vulnerable to disaster because it had an outdated hull design, according to the 1998 risk analysis by S.H.M. Marine International, a Victoria marine engineering firm.

The analysis concluded that with a brisk wind, the Queen of the North could easily capsize in an accident with a significant hull breach and just minutes or seconds would be available for emergency response.

“The existing ship, when launching lifeboats and life rafts in a 22-knot wind, possesses no or dangerously inadequate stability,” the report said.

The report called for the addition of external buoyancy devices called sponsons, but they were never added.

The April, 1998, safety report, with its graphics showing disaster scenarios in vivid red, was left to collect dust in B.C. Ferries’ archives. The company says it did make other structural upgrades to the ship in response to the report, but over all it maintains that its ships are safe because they meet the regulatory requirements of Transport Canada.

But regulations, modern navigational equipment and safety management failed to prevent the unthinkable in the early hours of March 22, 2006, when the Queen of the North rammed into an island and sank to the ocean floor.

While the ship did not capsize, it sank too quickly to save everyone on board. Two people are missing and presumed drowned. And the accident could have been far, far worse.

The collision occurred in calm seas, and only 101 people were on board – far from the ship’s capacity of 650 – putting less strain on rescue resources.

“They were lucky,” said Robert Beadell, a marine engineer who spent six years at B.C. Ferries as a safety expert. He commissioned the S.H.M. Marine report and later quit in frustration over B.C. Ferries’ approach to risk management.

Mr. Beadell argues that the sinking highlights a crucial flaw in B.C. Ferries’ safety regime. By relying on regulatory compliance and not exceeding federal standards, the company is taking unnecessary risks, he said, citing its decision to continue using the two vessels with single-compartment hulls despite concerns.

“The Queen of the North was vulnerable and they knew that. The Queen of Prince Rupert and the Queen of Chilliwack are also single-compartment vessels and it’s strange to me the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet,” Mr. Beadell said in an interview.

The single-compartment hull refers to a safety standard that if one watertight compartment is flooded, a vessel should remain afloat and stable long enough to evacuate.

Ferry disasters in Europe, such as the one in which the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized near Belgium in 1987, killing 193 passengers and crew, led to new regulations restricting such vessels in European waters.

But Transport Canada, which has spent more than a decade drafting new regulations to improve the safety of one-compartment passenger ferries, continues to certify the ships in domestic waters.

“We at Transport Canada are late at putting this standard into place because of the further consultation with smaller passenger vessel operators,” said Victor Santos-Pedro, director of design equipment and boating safety in the Marine Safety Directorate of Transport Canada. “We wanted to put it in place earlier.”

That consultation is finished, for now, and new regulations will take effect on Oct. 1. Still, Canadian ferry operators will have up to five years to bring existing vessels up to standard.

For B.C. Ferries, it will mean the end of the line for the two remaining single-compartment vessels. Instead of installing sponsons to improve stability, B.C. Ferries will retire the Queen of Prince Rupert in 2009 and the Queen of Chilliwack in 2012.

Mike Corrigan, B.C. Ferries chief operating officer, said the sponsons haven’t been added because the regulations do not yet require them.

So why are the two ships, which run on some of B.C. Ferries’ most challenging routes, considered safe now but will not be good enough in 2012?

“We’re replacing the systems as quickly as we possibly can; we’ve identified the need to replace the vessels,” Mr. Corrigan said, adding: “They always were and still are in full compliance with Transport Canada safety regulations.”

The Queen of the North was certified by Transport Canada but that didn’t comfort Mr. Beadell, the former head of B.C. Ferries’ international safety management program.

“We have spent the last three years telling the fleet that safety is our No. 1 priority, but apparently this is not always true,” Mr. Beadell said in a 1998 letter to B.C. Ferries’ head of corporate safety after the risk analysis was delivered. Mr. Beadell said he quit because the corporation dismissed the report’s conclusions, reasoning that a collision was unlikely. He is now a marine safety consultant with Invicta Marine in Victoria.

However, the warnings about the Queen of the North did lead to some design changes on the vessel in 1999 – additional watertight doors on the vehicle deck – which likely bought enough time to get 99 of the 101 passengers and crew off the ship when it went down seven years later.

After the impact at Gil Island, the Queen of the North took 78 minutes to slip below the water in a calm sea due to “rapid progressive flooding along the entire length of the hull,” according to an internal inquiry by B.C. Ferries. Subdivision doors on the main car deck – the ones that were added after Mr. Beadell’s report – were closed, helping to slow the flooding and keep the ship on an even keel for most of the evacuation.

Jackie Miller, president of the Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, says her members still worry about the safety of the remaining two ferries with single-compartment hulls.

“We don’t believe they should be sailing with a single-compartment hull, [but] Transport Canada has given B.C. Ferries a dispensation to continue sailing the ships,” she said.

However she bristled when asked whether her members feel safe sailing on the Queen of Prince Rupert and the Queen of Chilliwack today.

“That’s a really obnoxious phraseology,” she responded. “Do they feel there are safety issues, are they raising safety concerns? The answer is yes. Do they feel safe? Probably. Otherwise they wouldn’t be sailing.”

But she said things may change. The Transportation Safety Board review on the sinking may not deal with hull design, but a joint union-company safety management review is taking a broader look.

As part of that internal review, safety management consultants from Europe toured the northern routes earlier this month to look at the union’s concerns, she said.

“We have some concerns and some of these things are being addressed and some issues are still outstanding, some are design flaws, some are fundamental flaws in the ongoing delivery of safety management,” Ms. Miller said.

Notwithstanding the overhaul of the safety management program, B.C. Ferries maintains that its ships are safe and its safety record is excellent.

But confirming the details isn’t easy. Since the former Crown corporation became a quasi-private enterprise in 2003, the company will not release its regular safety audits. And while it does publicly report on major accidents, there is no public access to details of the hundreds of minor incidents that occur each year.

The service is one of the biggest passenger ferry operators in the world, and has about 250 safety incidents a year, from collisions to cut fingers.

David Hahn, president of B.C. Ferries, noted that his company releases the results of “divisional inquiries,” which are internal investigations into major accidents. There are, on average, two each year.

“It’s probably the opposite of what most other organizations do; they give you the little stuff and hide the big ones,” he said.

Mr. Hahn said he doesn’t track how his company compares with other ferry operators on safety, but pointed to a recent safety audit by former B.C. auditor-general George Morfitt as proof that the company is doing a good job and passengers should feel safe.

B.C. Ferries commissioned Mr. Morfitt to look into safety after the Queen of the North sinking. His report last January concluded that, over all, the company is offering a safe service despite a dysfunctional relationship between the company and its workers.

Mr. Beadell said both sides will have to work together to change the currentapproach to risk management.

“If you sit back and rely on compliance as your main safety principle, you are going to have problems. It’s like looking in the rear-view mirror and saying, ‘I haven’t hit anything,’ instead of looking through the front windshield. If you do that, you are a fool.”

Safety questioned

The safety of two other ferries that have a similar, single-compartment hull construction as the Queen of the North is being called into question.

The Queen of Chilliwack

Built in Norway in 1978, it has a capacity for 700 passengers and crew, although B.C. Ferries now lists its capacity as 400 people. It operates between Port Hardy and the Bella Bella area in the summer, and the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale run in the winter.

The Queen of Prince Rupert

Built in Victoria in 1966, it has a capacity for 544 passengers and crew. It services the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert route.


Pages of 1998 report come to light

In April, 1998, S.H.M. Marine International Inc., an independent naval-architecture firm based in Victoria, produced a 34-page report for B.C. Ferries assessing the stability of the Queen of the North in the event the hull was damaged. The report looked at various scenarios, depending on where the hull might be damaged and how many interior compartments might be flooded, but none of the scenarios matched the extent of the damage the ship suffered when it ran into Gil Island in March, 2006.


In one scenario, with a single compartment flooding after damage to the forward portion of the ship, the Queen of the North was considered only “marginally deficient” in its range of stability. If two compartments flooded, however, it was considered “severely deficient.” When the ship sank eight years later, witnesses reported flooding in at least three compartments.


The 1998 safety report recommended the addition of exterior buoyancy devices called sponsons. Instead, B.C. Ferries installed subdivision doors on the main car deck, which helped slow the flooding once the water reached the car deck, giving crew more time to evacuate the ship.

B.C. Ferries

System description:

One of the largest ferry operators in the world, carrying almost 22 million passengers a year and 8.5 million vehicles. Its 36 vessels range in size from the Mill Bay, which can carry up to 16 vehicles, to the Spirit of British Columbia, with a 470-car capacity.


The company was a provincial Crown corporation until 2003, when it became a quasi-private company – an independent commercial organization with some public funding.

Sea conditions:

The sea conditions of its 25 routes vary, with the majority running in the busy but protected waters between the mainland and Vancouver Island. The northern routes also offer challenges with some narrow passages and extreme weather conditions from the Queen Charlotte Islands to the mainland at Prince Rupert.

Safety philosophy:

The company is in the midst of an overhaul of its safety management system after the 2006 sinking of the Queen of the North. The company’s most recent annual report states: “At BC Ferries, we put the safety of our customers and crew first. This past year was no exception. With more than 9,700 days of safety training last year, our employees are there to prevent emergency situations before they happen and ready to respond quickly and efficiently if their skills are required.”

Accident record:

Seven accident-related fatalities in the past 15 years:

In 2006, the Queen of the North slammed into Gil Island at full speed and sank. Ninety-nine passengers and crew were rescued but two people are missing and presumed drowned. An internal inquiry blamed human error; a separate investigation by the Transportation Safety Board is expected in October.

In 2000, the Spirit of Vancouver Island and a small pleasure craft, the Star Ruby, collided, killing the elderly U.S. couple on board the power boat. The ferry’s bridge crew spotted the fibreglass-hulled boat in a narrow channel but elected to try to overtake it.

In 1992, the Queen of New Westminster pulled away from the dock in Nanaimo while a van was still on the ramp. Three people died. An inquiry found that the ferry left prematurely from the berth because crew members were preoccupied with maintaining the schedule, and because the portable radios used by staff at the terminal had glitches.

Washington State Ferries

System Description: It runs about 500 daily sailings with 20 ports of call, and moves about 26 million passengers and 11 million vehicles a year. Its 28 vessels range from the Jumbo Mark II class that can carry 2,500 passengers and 202 vehicles, down to the Kalama, a high-speed passenger vessel that carries 250 passengers.

Governance: Washington State Ferries is part of the state’s Department of Transportation, designated with the same status as an interstate highway. It is the largest ferry fleet in the United States.

Sea conditions: Its service concentrates mainly on short commuter runs in the protected waters of Puget Sound and its inland waterways, where busy marine traffic often poses the most challenging hazards.

Safety Philosophy: The ferry operator calls passenger safety its No. 1 priority, and is completing a five-year review with the U.S. Coast Guard on lifesaving practices. The ferry operator was forced to make dramatic changes after a 1998 exposé in the Seattle Times highlighted the shortage of rescue boats on the ships. Safety also means a focus on potential terrorist attacks, resulting the presence at ferry terminals of Washington State Patrol troopers and explosive-detection dogs.

Accident record: There have been no fatal accidents in recent history but the system has had some costly “hard landings,” the term ferry operators use when a ferry hits a dock hard enough to do damage.

In 1999 the ferry Elwha hit the Orcas Island dock and caused $3.6-million in damage. A malfunction in its propulsion system was blamed.

In a similar incident in 1998, the propulsion controls failed on the Sealth, causing that vessel to ram into Seattle’s Colman Dock, slightly injuring seven passengers and causing $2.9-million in damage.

Marine Atlantic

System description:

The system offers two routes, one is a year-round service between Port aux Basques, Nfld., and North Sydney, N.S. The other is a summer service between Argentia, Nfld., and North Sydney. The fleet includes four ice-class vessels, including the Leif Ericson, the Caribou and the Joseph and Clara Smallwood. The Atlantic Freighter is a dedicated commercial freighter.


A federal Crown corporation providing a passenger and commercial marine-transportation system between the Island of Newfoundland and the province of Nova Scotia.

Sea conditions:

High winds, pack ice and extreme storm surges are features in the Cabot Strait that can interrupt service.

Safety philosophy:

“Safety is Marine Atlantic’s number one priority,” the company literature says. In 1996, Marine Atlantic announced it was the first ferry operator in North America to gain International Safety Management Code certification. It also adopted a Marine Evacuation System program after a fire aboard the Joseph and Clara Smallwood in 2003.

Accident record:

No fatalities but in 2003, a fire started near a tractor-trailer truck on the lower level of the ferry Joseph and Clara Smallwood. The vessel was about eight nautical miles (15 kilometres) from its destination, Port aux Basques, when the fire broke out at about 11 p.m. The vessel was evacuated when it arrived in Port aux Basques shortly after midnight. The Transportation Safety Board found several deficiencies in Marine Altantic’s response to the fire. The fire alarm was not sounded in the passenger areas, passengers were unaccounted for and they were unnecessarily “exposed to a potentially unsafe environment” when they were directed to retrieve their vehicles when the ship docked.

Alaska State Marine Highway

System description:

Its fleet of 11 ships range from the 55-metre-long Lituya, with capacity for 149 passengers, to the 124-metre-long Matanuska, with room for 499 passengers. The routes range from the Inside Passage out to the Aleutian Islands and as far south as Washington state. It transports an average 300,000 passengers and 100,000 vehicles a year.


An extension of the Alaska Department of Transportation, the ferry operator is considered part of the U.S. national highway system.

Sea conditions:

The service covers a vast area of the Pacific coast but harsh weather conditions shut down some routes in winter. In all it serves 32 communities in Alaska, plus Bellingham, Wash., and Prince Rupert.

Safety Philosophy:

The department’s safety protocols rely on the inspection and certification provided by the U.S. Coast Guard. As well, ships sailing to Prince Rupert comply with the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.

Accident record:

No fatalities but in 2004 the fleet’s ship LeConte caused $6-million in damages when it ran aground on Cozian Reef in Peril Strait, about 48 kilometres north of Sitka. While the damage was significant – with flooding in five sections of the vessel – 86 passengers and crew were evacuated with only two minor injuries. The accident was blamed on operator error.

SOURCES: B.C. Ferries; Washington State Ferries; Marine Atlantic and Alaska State Marine Highway

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