Queen of Oak Bay Looses Power … Hits Wall – doc.

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Captain skilfully avoids dock, averts tragedy

Chad Skelton and Doug Ward


CREDIT: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun Photo

…the vessel experienced an engine problem docking at Horseshoe Bay.


A dramatic accident at Horseshoe Bay Thursday in which a 7,000-tonne ferry apparently lost power and plowed into a marina could have been far worse had it not been for the quick thinking of the ferry’s captain, according to a Canadian Coast Guard official.

“If he had slammed right into the big dock, there would have been an awful lot of damage,” said Terry Tebb, assistant commissioner of the coast guard. “Obviously he did some fancy manoeuvring to minimize the damage and that’s how he ended up where he is now.”

BC Ferries’ Queen of Oak Bay collided with Sewell’s Marina around 10:10 a.m. Thursday and ran aground — destroying several pleasure boats, including about half a dozen that sank to the bottom of the bay, and stranding 544 passengers on board for more than six hours.

There were no injuries.

The cause of the collision is still under investigation by both Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board.

But initial reports suggest the vessel lost engine power as it neared the terminal.

“Typically when they come in, they shift into reverse in order to slow down,” said Tebb.

However, with those reverse thrusters disabled, said Tebb, the ferry was in danger of slamming into the terminal, with disastrous consequences for both passengers on board and those on shore.

“Obviously, they did an avoidance to not slam right into the dock,” he said.

Witnesses said the ferry began sounding its air horn repeatedly while it was still several hundred metres from the terminal — leading many to believe at first that another boat was in its way.

“It was like somebody with a car horn just holding it down,” said Sara Brocklehurst, who was getting an ice cream cone while she waited for the ferry. After two or three minutes of sounding its horn, the ferry slowly crashed past the marina’s breakwater and then into several rows of boats.

“Part of me was saying, ‘He’ll stop before the boats,’ ” said Brocklehurst. “But he actually came right into them and started crushing them like boxes.”

While no one on the ferry was injured, its passengers were stranded for most of the day — unable to leave the ferry while divers searched the waters below to ensure no one was trapped underneath.

Finally, around 5 p.m., the ferry was towed to its berth and passengers were allowed to depart.

Susan Tapp of Courtenay was one of the passengers who walked off.

“It’s been a long day. Eight hours. I’m supposed to be in Osoyoos,” Tapp said. “We walked around the ship, enjoyed the sunshine, read a book. There wasn’t a lot you could do. They fed us.”

She said ferry officials gave passengers a five-minute warning to “sit down and brace ourselves and he [the captain] held that whistle down the whole time we were coming in.” Tapp said she saw the ferry “take out” a few boats but “we didn’t feel anything.”

Bob Walker, who was waiting to board the ferry, said the massive vessel simply rolled over many of the large sailboats in its path.

“The masts just snapped over like twigs as it came in,” he said.

Tracey Morettin, who was on the beach with her children, said passengers on the ferry’s car decks appeared to realize something was wrong and were yelling at people in the marina to get out of the way.

As it advances, the ferry pushes into a fleet of smaller craft.

The Queen of Oak Bay continues on its crash course.

The ferry comes to a halt after crunching several boats.

The ferry goes out of control while the captain tries to dock.

CREDIT: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun Photo

BC Ferries’s Queen of Oak Bay crashed into Sewell’s Marina after …


Mike Bromley’s 11.5-metre charter sailboat was one of those crushed by the ferry.

“My business is toast this season,” said Bromley, who wasn’t at the marina at the time of the accident.

“I only have a four-month season and now it’s over.”

The crash took place during one of the busiest weekends of the year for BC Ferries and resulted in the cancellation of several sailings out of Horseshoe Bay and congestion on other routes.

“We have no choice but to wait,” said Lasqueti Island-bound passenger Jan Rae, who was supposed to board the Queen of Oak Bay at 10:30 a.m. and was still waiting in line several hours later.

BC Ferries president David Hahn said the company will do its best to add extra sailings over the weekend to make up for having one of its vessels out of commission, but admitted things will be tough for travellers.

“This is obviously the worst possible timing,” he said. “It’s a day that will, quite frankly, ruin some people’s weekends. I don’t think there’s any way around that.”

Hahn said the Queen of Oak Bay will be placed in dry dock and inspected to try to determine what happened.

“It won’t go back in the water until it’s clear what went wrong,” he said.

The ferry, which was built in 1981, was put back into service just 17 days ago after undergoing a $35-million refit of its lifesaving equipment, passenger accommodations and engine.

However, Hahn said Thursday there is no indication that the refit had anything to do with Thursday’s collision.

“There was work done on a number of issues in the engine room but I can’t correlate any of that to what happened today,” he said.

[email protected]


– Are refunds being given for reservation fees? Yes. B.C. Ferry Services is automatically refunding all reservation fees for Friday sailings between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo that were scheduled to depart after the accident.

– Will ferry reservations be honoured today? Yes, reservations between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay will be honoured, but BC Ferries will not be taking last-minute reservations for that route today. On the Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo route, reservations will be honoured only if BC Ferries is able to bring in a replacement vessel. It was not clear Thursday evening whether a replacement ship would be available.

– For more information, go to www.bcferries.com, or call 1-888-BCFERRY (1-888-223-3779)


Some of B.C.’s worst ferry accidents:

July 2003 — Four passengers suffered minor injuries when the Spirit of Vancouver Island collided with its dock at Swartz Bay. The accident caused tens of thousands of dollars of damage to the dock and the ship.

May 2003 — The Queen of Surrey was taken out of service for two months after an engine fire. No one was injured, but 318 people were stranded.

September 2000 — Two Americans were killed when their 10-metre yacht collided with the Spirit of Vancouver Island near Swartz Bay.

CREDIT: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun Files

AUG. 9, 1979: The Queen of Alberni ran aground near Sidney, damaging vehicles it carried.

Officials watch divers searching the water beneath a pleasure boat crushed by the Queen of Oak Bay at Horseshoe Bay on Thursday.

A man relaxes while watching crews work on the Queen of Oak Bay after it ran aground.

Frustrated travellers sit stranded on the tarmac of the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. The terminal was shut down while scuba divers entered the water to search for survivors and survey damage to the boat.

August 1992 — A mother and her two daughters died when their van plunged off a ferry loading ramp at Nanaimo.

March 1992 — The Queen of Alberni collided with a Japanese coal carrier in thick fog off Tsawwassen. Eighteen people were taken to hospital.

February 1992 — The Queen of Saanich collided in the fog with a catamaran operated by Royal Sealink Express, injuring 23 people.

December 1991 — The Howe Sound Queen collided with a dock at Horseshoe Bay. Six passengers were taken to hospital.

June 1989 — The Queen of Alberni crashed into a dock at Departure Bay, injuring six passengers.

August 1985 — The Queen of Cowichan crashed into a family’s pleasure boat off Bowen Island, killing a mother and her two sons.

October 1984 — The Queen of Surrey smashed into the side of the Horseshoe Bay dock, causing $200,000 in damage to the dock.

August 1982 — The Queen of Prince Rupert was heavily damaged when it ran aground near Bella Bella.

August 1979 — The Queen of Alberni ran aground in Active Pass. There were no injuries, but there was extensive damage to trucks and automobiles on board.

October 1971 — A car carrying an elderly couple plunged off the Queen of New Westminster at Departure Bay when the ferry lurched from the ramp while being unloaded. The occupants of the car were saved by two bystanders.

August 1970 — A heavily loaded Russian freighter sliced into the side of the Queen of Victoria, killing three people. The accident happened in Active Pass, between Galiano and Mayne Islands.

Source: Amy O’Brian




















The Queen of Oak Bay ran aground just two hours past low tide. The afternoon high tide, though not nearly as high as the nearest nighttime highs, was enough for the vessel to be freed. Data below plots Thursday’s high and low tides.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005


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