When the Queen of the North passenger ferry runs into a rocky island off Canada’s west coast, two passengers were killed. Investigators must take drastic steps to assess the facts in the face of contradictory details from the crew.
Queen of the North was a roll-on/roll-off (RORO) ferry designed by AG Weser of Germany and operated by BC Ferries. She ran an 18-hour route between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, a route known as the Inside Passage, along the British Columbia Coast of Canada. The gross tonnage of the ship was 8,806 (the fifth highest in the BC ferry fleet) and the total length was 125 metres (410 ft, the 14th longest in the fleet). She had the capacity of transporting 700 passengers and 115 cars. She was renovated and designated and became the “flagship” of the fleet of BC Ferries in 1985. BC Ferries installed a second set of internal welded doors following the sinking of MS Estonia in 1994 to prevent the bow from flooding in the rough seas.
The Queen of the North, bound for Port Hardy, British Columbia, sank in Wright Sound, 135 kilometres (73 nmi) south of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, after running aground on Gil Island. On March 22, 2006, she sank at 12:25 am but conflicting reports exist about the exact time. News reports suggested that the vessel failed to make a scheduled change of direction and was one kilometre away from where it should have been at the time of the collision.
The vessel took about an hour to sink, according to emergency responders, allowing passengers time to evacuate into lifeboats. The estimated time between the collision and the sinking was reported by eyewitness accounts and also suggested that the ship sunk stern first. In the incident, two passengers, whose bodies were never found, and apparently failed to reach the lifeboats died when the ship sank. When the ferry was located, the two missing passengers were not found in the wreck and are still missing today.
On March 26, 2006, at a depth of 427 metres (1,401 ft), Queen of the North was found by a manned submersible craft. According to BC Ferries, the ship is intact and “rests in silt on it’s keel and the silt covers the hull in some places up to what is called, the rubbing strake and above.”
BC Ferries released the findings of its inquiry on March 26, 2007 and blamed the accident on human error caused by three crew members, primarily the Queen of the North’s helmswoman who was at the wheel of the ship, as well as the second and fourth officers in charge of the navigation of the ship.
On the 16th of March 2010, in British Columbia, charge of criminal negligence causing death was laid against Karl Lilgert in Vancouver Provincial Court. At the time of the crash, he was the navigating officer responsible for steering the vessel. Lilgert was convicted on May 13, 2013, of two counts of criminal negligence causing death in B.C. Supreme Court.
Coming to Discovery Network Canada, Disasters at Sea, Queen of the North airs Sunday, 18 October 2020 at 8 pm ET/5PT