Did ex-lovers' talk help sink Canadian ferry?

Wed Mar 12, 2008 6:40pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A conversation between two former lovers navigating a Canadian ferry may have contributed to the ship's fatal sinking, according to an investigation released on Wednesday.

A distracted bridge crew failed to make a steering change and allowed the Queen of the North to sail on the wrong course for nearly 15 minutes until it slammed into an island off Canada's Pacific coast in 2006, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

The board stressed it does not know why the crew failed to realize their mistake, but among the possible distractions was a "personal" conversation between the male bridge officer and a female crewmember at the helm. The two had ended a romantic relationship two weeks before the accident.

The officer told investigators he was sure he ordered the course change but there is no evidence the ship made the needed turn, the board said.

At the time of the crash there should have been a third person on the bridge, and alarms that should have alerted them to danger were turned off. When the crew suddenly saw the island looming ahead of the ferry, the less-experienced helmswoman did not know how to switch from autopilot to manual steering.

"The system failed that night," said Pierre Murray, a senior marine investigator with the board.

The ship, operated by government-owned BC Ferries, sank in the middle of the night of March 22, 2006, after hitting Gil Island near the village of Hartley Bay, on its scheduled route down the rugged British Columbia coast.

Ninety-nine passengers and crew were able to scramble into lifeboats as the ship rapidly sank, but two passengers never made it off the vessel and their bodies are assumed to be trapped in the wreckage on the ocean floor.   Continued...

<p>Transportation Safety board of Canada Chair Wendy Tadros (C), Senior Marine Investigator Captain Pierre Murray and Director of Marine Investigations Captain Yvette Myers (L) take questions during a news conference in Vancouver British Columbia, March 12, 2008. The Safety Board on Wednesday released its findings into the March 22, 2006 sinking of the BC Ferry Queen of the North. REUTERS/Lyle Stafford</p>