Sunday, March 16, 2008

What about the maintenance asks NDP's Gary Coons

Gary Coons the NDP ferries critic and MLA for the North Coast, suggested that there is still one outstanding issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to the sinking of the Queen of the North.

Coons pointed out on Friday that he has had concerns over the maintenance of the BC Ferries vessels in recent years, and was particularly interested in the maintenance routine for the Queen of the North which had a failure of an alarm system as one of the key moments in the 2006 tragedy.

Coons also called for a full public inquiry into the sinking, a call echoed by the federal representative for the region, NDP MP, Nathan Cullen. It's a concept that has begun to pick up some steam in the province, after the two year TSB study left British Columbians no better informed than the night that the vessel sank off of Gil Island.

The Daily News provided details of many of the MLA's concerns with a front page story in Friday's paper.

Politician says the way ferries are being maintained is causing problems
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Friday, March 14, 2008
Pages one and three

B.C. Ferries, the media and the public are totally missing one of the key points in the Transportation Safety Board's report on the sinking of the Queen of the North, says North Coast MLA Gary Coons. And the NDP Ferry Critic says it is leaving the door open for future accidents.

The Transportation Safety Board report released earlier this week notes that the Electronic Chart System alarm that would have alerted the crew that the ship was off-course in time to avoid the accident was turned off while the Queen of the North had been out of service being refitted.

The failure of this alarm fed into the chain of events that eventually resulted in the ship's grounding on Gil Island, Coons said.

Of the 101 people on board, 99 made it off the ship while two are missing and presumed dead.
Coons said this was the second major incident that could be traced back to modifications to a vessel coming back from a refit. It shows a pattern of safety issues caused by allowing the company to privatize refit services in 2002 and use the cheapest bidder rather than the most experienced, he claimed.

"Do most people take their cars to a different mechanic every time they need repairs, or do they develop a relationship based on prior experience and reliability? The answer is obvious: while cost is an important consideration, value is what really matters," said Coons.

A full public inquiry into the accident would bring issues concerning the privatization of critical safety maintenance to light, he said, rather than allowing the accident simply to be dismissed as the result of human error.

Most focus on the report since it was released Wednesday has been on the personal conversation between the Quartermaster and Fourth Officer during the 12 minutes after they failed to notice the missed course change and the time the ferry grounded.

"I have a concern with refit and maintenance services as it has been privatized under the Coastal Ferry Act," said Coons. "Vessel maintenance is treated as ancillary and is unregulated. B.C. Ferries is treating the maintenance of their vessels the same way they treat reservations and catering."

Coons added that in the summer of 2005, The Queen of Oak Bay smashed into 24 boats and ran aground while docking at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver because a three-centimetre codder pin was not replaced during a refit. Amazingly, no one on board the ferry or in Sewell Marina was injured.

Once again, the missing codder pin fed into a chain of events that caused the ferry to run out of control and put the lives of 544 passengers in danger.

According to a B.C. Ferries spokesperson who addressed the crash at the time, the pin held in place a nut that connected the control arm between the engine speed control device to the engine fuel rack. Failure of the mechanism caused the ship to overspeed. The codder pin was not replaced after the engineer speed control device had been serviced by a private company during a $35-million refit.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen is also calling for a full public inquiry into the sinking.
"The whole two-year effort was to provide some answers and some closure to the families and I don't think that happened," said Cullen. "This is something the families have been calling for."
Cullen questioned the effectiveness of the Transportation Safety Board when it apparently lacks the authority to get to the bottom of a disaster of this magnitude.

"I think we have to look at the Transportation Safety Board's mandate, do they have enough teeth, is there enough legislation that covers them?"

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