News

Report paints grim picture

IRWIN LOY, 24 HOURS

The only two crew members on the bridge of the doomed Queen of the North were so distracted they had no idea the ship was headed wildly off course, a report into the B.C. Ferries disaster has confirmed.

The Transportation Safety Board report, released yesterday, paints a picture of confusion and carelessness in the moments leading up to the March 22, 2006, crash.

"They were not following sound watch procedures," TSB senior marine investigator Capt. Pierre Murray told reporters at a news conference yesterday.

Fourth Officer Karl Lilgert and Quartermaster Karen Bricker were in a relationship that ended two weeks before the accident, which happened in the early hours of March 22, 2006.

That shift was their first alone on watch since the relationship ended.

It's likely the two officers were distracted by a "personal conversation," Murray said, but that's as far as investigators would reveal.

"It's not our mandate to report on small or juicy details that the media would like," Murray said, when asked to explain what could have so consumed the crew members that they did not notice the ship had missed a key course correction that, in 14 minutes, would send the vessel into a disastrous impact with an island.

"I think it's nonsense," said lawyer Peter Ritchie, who is representing the two teenaged daughters of passenger Gerald Foisy, who, along with Shirley Rosette, is presumed to have drowned as part of the crash.

"They just are set up in such a way here that they're lobbing softballs as opposed to digging hard, trying to find out what happened."

The report's investigators admitted that without a voyage data recorder - similar to an airline's black box - they were at a loss to explain exactly why the officers didn't follow basic navigation procedures that would have kept the vessel on course.

"Had the Queen of the North been outfitted with a VDR, there would be no talk about what the crew was doing those 14 minutes," said TSB chair Wendy Tadros.

The TSB investigation cost $900,000, Tadros said.

A class-action lawsuit against B.C. Ferries is still pending.

WHAT HAPPENED?

- The crew members were distracted by a conversation of a "personal nature."

- The 4th officer incorrectly assumed he had ordered and verified a course change.

- Navigational equipment setups hampered effective monitoring.

- Basic principles of safe navigation - verifying course, reducing speed, calling a senior officer to the bridge - were not observed, a fact the TSB investigators were at a loss to explain.