Sailing a Northern Misadventure-vessel does not belong on route, says MLA Coons

  • Nov. 23, 2009 10:00 a.m.

By Alex Rinfret–Sunday night’s Prince Rupert to Skidegate ferry sailing turned into a nightmare for passengers after the Northern Adventure got caught in high winds and waves in the middle of Hecate Strait. The ship was stuck in waves as high as 10 metres for several hours, then turned back to Prince Rupert in the early morning, finally docking around 1 pm, 14 hours after it left. At least one passenger, Lee-Al Nelson of Queen Charlotte, said the ship should never have left Prince Rupert Sunday night, given the weather conditions and wind warning. “This was not severe weather, this was a poor judgment call,” said Mr. Nelson, who was returning from a tournament with the Queen Charlotte Secondary girls’ volleyball team and spoke to the Observer Monday afternoon from Rupert’s Crest Hotel. “It almost flipped the boat. I have never felt that before.” Mr. Nelson, who has travelled the Rupert-Skidegate route many times, said this sailing was unlike any other he has been on. The ship left Rupert around 11:10 pm, he said, much to the surprise of many passengers. The first couple of hours were somewhat rough. “At around one o’clock, pandemonium broke loose,” said Mr. Nelson, who was in a cabin during the sailing. “Everything was falling… It was listing, horribly listing.” To add to the confusion, the captain did not make a single announcement about the situation until the early morning, when he announced that the ship would return to Prince Rupert, Mr. Nelson said. The return to Rupert took much longer than usual because the ship could only use one engine, he said. “The girls were traumatized,” Mr. Nelson said. “People were crying.” Talk among the passengers was that seven crew members had been hurt, four crew rooms had been flooded and four vehicles were damaged, he added. When the ferry docked in Rupert, the passengers were told to get off and go to the terminal, he said. At the terminal, he said, ferries staff blamed the incident on weather and said passengers had two options: to get a refund or rebook their trip. Staff did not offer the traumatized passengers any compensation for accommodation or food. Mr. Nelson said he spoke up in the terminal, disputing the idea that the entire incident was the fault of unexpected weather conditions. “This is a captain who left when he shouldn’t have left and put people’s lives in danger,” he told terminal staff and passengers. Mr. Nelson said there was no response from staff, but he felt he had to say something. Grade 11 student Kelsey Lore, a member of the volleyball team, said the trip was absolutely terrifying and she could not imagine getting back on the ferry. “We could hear the vehicles crashing together downstairs, and we could hear all the dishes breaking,” she said. “The gift shop was absolutely ruined, everything had fallen over… The cash register was smashed on the ground.” Ms Lore said she is hoping that BC Ferries will fly the team back. “Everybody is freaked out,” she said. “I’m scared to go on the ferry tonight. I don’t think it will be fixed and it’s supposed to be stormy tonight.” Tory Roberts, another member of the volleyball team, said she started crying once she got off the Northern Adventure and was in the terminal, and so did several other passengers. “Once we were off the boat I bawled and freaked,” she said from Prince Rupert this afternoon. “I am exhausted and I’m upset about missing school… I am not getting back on that boat, I will have hysterics.” BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said two crew members were injured in the sailing, one bumping his knee and one bumping his head, and there was some minor damage to vehicles. She said the captain headed out into Hecate Strait, then decided between 3 and 4 am that the weather was too rough to continue. The ferry held its position until 8 or 9 am, then headed back to Prince Rupert, she said. “The winds were worse than what was predicted,” she said of the decision to head out despite a wind warning. “They were hoping for a break in the weather.” The wind early Monday morning was over 60 knots, she said. Meanwhile, North Coast MLA Gary Coons said he’d heard up to seven crew members had been injured and that he was worried about whether the Northern Adventure is really the right ship for Hecate Strait. BC Ferries purchased the ship second-hand after the Queen of the North sank and it started serving the north coast in 2007, mostly on the Port Hardy-Prince Rupert route. However, this is its first winter season as the regular Rupert-Skidegate vessel. “I keep bringing up that we shouldn’t even have this vessel in our waters,” Mr. Coons said. “It’s not meant for us, it’s meant for the Mediterranean.”