Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Many pages of findings, few causes for the sinking, outlined in the Queen of the North investigation

“The system failed”—Transportation Safety Board official Wendy Tadrow, outlining one of impressions from the report into the sinking of the Queen of the North.

With a declaration that rumour and innuendo does not guide the TSB, the investigators tasked with examining the events leading to the sinking of the Queen of the North delivered their report on Wednesday morning.
Before they got down to work, the chairwoman Wendy Tadrow engaged in a bit of self serving outrage that their report had been “leaked” yesterday to media sources; after that bit of hubris, the Board proceeded to highlight the findings of the most anticipated report in recent British Columbia history.

In the Vancouver press conference, the three spokespersons for the TSB outlined their process of investigation and some of the recommendations that they have for BC Ferries. But if anyone was looking for the final answer, or a declaration of “this is what happened”, they won’t find much satisfaction from today’s report.

Included in their presentation were recordings of the traffic messages between the ferry and vessel services radio operators as well as a video interpretation of the path of travel of the Queen of the North as it headed forward to its impact on the rocks.

Among the page upon page of deliberations some key points were highlighted as needing attention from BC Ferries. That list included a number of issues ranging from water tight doors that could not be closed because of debris that was in the way, improper watch keeping procedures, a lack of proper tracking of passengers on the vessel at the time and the apparently common usage of alcohol and drugs by some members on the BC ferries staff members. They also recommended that “black box” recorders be established on all vessels, a piece of equipment that may very well have assisted in determining what took place prior to the sinking of the vessel.
But it was fourteen minutes that still are unaccounted for that remain at the root of the interest in the happenings of March 22nd, and for that there wasn’t much new shed on the situation.

Distractions led to the sinking of the Queen of the North, that seems to be the findings of the Transportation Safety Board from their two years of study. There were three things that the board suggested were problematic, a personal conversation between two members of the crew on the bridge, a squall that had suddenly come up on the vessel and a fishing boat that was in the vicinity of the ferry.

Those distractions apparently led to the now infamous missed course change, a fatal error that led to the vessel running into Gil Island. According to investigators that course change did not take place because the on deck watch crew was not following proper watch keeping procedures.

Left unsaid were what those distractions may have been. And the privileged and protected nature of the employee witness statements collected by the TSB means that investigators will not be disclosing any of that information collected.

Until those missing fourteen minutes are accounted for, what led to the sinking of the Queen of the North will never be known. While the TSB says that they may not be guided by rumour and innuendo, they didn't do much to reduce those conditions from continuing to fester.

While the mandate of the TSB is not to assess blame when it comes to transportation incidents, the report delivered today will leave many feeling as though no progress has been made what so ever in finding out why a ferry in the BC Ferries fleet hit an island and sank.

Still to come will be a class action suit on behalf of the survivors of the ill fated sailing and perhaps one day a complete criminal investigation into what did happen that night. There will also no doubt be renewed efforts to have the Provincial government become more involved in getting to the bottom of the events of that day.

All of those are procedures that may finally fill in the blanks that are still missing from this investigation, a process that took two years to complete and hasn’t left us any better informed than we were when the first reports of the sinking shook this city two years ago.

Without sworn testimony and full public disclosure as to what was going on during the course of the final journey of the Queen of the North, then it will be rumour and innuendo that forever haunts that vessels fate as well as fuel suspicions about the culture of service at the BC Ferry Corporation.

The Bill Good show on CKNW dedicated his entire program this morning to the release of this report. Good featured a number of interviews with experts, reporters and others intimately involved in the affairs of BC Ferries and the events of that day. Included in the days offerings were contributions from Prince Rupert’s Steve Smith, Chair of the North Coast Stakeholders Advisory Group for BC Ferries, Ernie Hill from Hartley Bay and David Hahn, the President and CEO of BC Ferries.

Hahn expressed regrets that the report missed a number of opportunities that presented themselves, including the opportunity to deliver a more forceful declaration to the Federal government about the use of intoxicants in the transportation system. He was also surprised at their neglect in acknowledging the skills that the crew of the Queen of the North exhibited in evacuating the vessel under extremely trying conditions.

You can listen to the entire program from the CKNW website, select the audio vault and listen in from 8:30-Noon, the 10 am hour features the actual press conference from the Transportation Safety Board.

The Transportation Safety Board has posted a number of articles on its website pertaining to the investigation into the Queen of the North sinking.

The full report can be found at this link.
BC Ferries provided their initial response with a press release issued this morning.

There of course will be numerous articles on this to follow, and we’ll update them below as they come across our internet portal, check back from time to time, to see if something new has developed.
Most recent articles denoted by*
Mar 13--Vic Times Colonist--The people of Hartley Bay feel a bit more uneasy today*
Mar 13--PR Daily News--Report on ferry sinking still leaves Questions Hanging*
Mar 12--CBC News--Ferry sinking report frustrates B.C. transportation minister
Mar 12--CBC News--Distracted crew ignored basic navigation rules in ferry sinking: Report
Mar 12--Van Sun--Queen of the North: Oblivious to danger
Mar 12--Van Sun--Ferry report: Total safety breakdown
Mar 12--Van Sun-- Report fails to find explanation for why ferry sank
Mar 12--Van Sun-- TSB report could affect pending lawsuit
Mar 12--Van Province--Fourth officer from Queen of the North makes first public statement
Mar 12--Van Province--Officer thought he'd ordered course change before deadly ferry crash
Mar 12--National Post--Two years of stonewalling
Mar 12--National Post--Ex-lovers in charge when ship crashed
Mar 12--National Post--TSB report: Key safety issues
Mar 12--National Post--TSB report: Voyage chronology
Mar 12--Globe and Mail--Ferry worker apologizes, two years later
Mar 12--Globe and Mail--Unhappy with ferry report, family wants full inquiry
Mar 12--Globe and Mail--Crew on bridge in ferry crash distracted
Mar 12--Canwest News-- Total safety breakdown sank B.C. ferry, probe finds
Mar 12--Opinion 250-- Final Report Issued on Queen of the North Sinking
Mar 11--Vancouver Province--Queen of the North bridge undermanned
Mar 10--The Daily News--Transportation Safety Board to release final report on the Queen of the North sinking
Photo above from Vancouver Sun website

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