Tragic ferry sinking led to ‘overhaul’ in bridge and safety protocols: BC Ferries’ CEO

Queen of the North disaster marks 10th anniversary
WATCH: It's now been 10 years since the Queen of the North slammed into an island and sank, killing one couple. Linda Aylesworth has more on what has been learned since that dark day, and the concerns that still linger.
“Within an hour the ship actually tilted to the side, levelled out and it sunk down to the sixth deck, came up like the Titanic, dipped and then it went [completely] under. It’s not something you’ll forget.”

That was what one passenger recalled on March 22, 2006, the day the Queen of the North ferry missed a turn and collided with Gil Island. The B.C. passenger ferry then listed and sunk, forcing about 100 passengers to be brought to land in rafts and rescue boats.

Toughest Day

Two passengers, Gerald Foisy and his common-law spouse Shirley Rosette from 100 Mile House, B.C., went missing during the accident and were presumed to have gone down with the ship and died.

On March 26, 2006, the Queen of the North was located by a manned submersible, but the couple was not found in the wreck.

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Reflecting on the sinking, BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan told Global News that “it was the toughest day in BC Ferries’ history. I personally think of the Queen of the North every day.

“March at BC Ferries is a safety month because of the Queen of the North and has been for 10 years. But I think first and foremost our thoughts go out to Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, the two victims of the Queen of the North.”

Navigator convicted

BC Ferries completed an internal investigation into the accident and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada also conducted their own separate investigation.

After a lengthy B.C. Supreme Court trial and appeal, the navigating officer who sailed the Queen of the North passenger ferry into a remote island was sentenced in June 2013 to four years in prison. Karl Lilgert, 59, was sentenced on two counts of criminal negligence causing death and although he appealed the decision, it was later upheld.

FULL COVERAGE: Queen of the North Sinking

The jury convicted Lilgert for the deaths of Foisy and Rosette and the Crown alleged at trial that Lilgert, who was in charge as fourth officer, failed to navigate the ship or take any steps to ensure the vessel was on course as it missed a scheduled turn and sailed toward the island.

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Lilgert, 59, testified in his own defence, telling the jury he was doing the best he could to navigate and track the ship in spite of rough weather and unreliable equipment.

In the end, the trial was unable to determine precisely why the ship missed its critical turn, and the answers did not come during sentencing in June 2013.

During the trial it was disclosed that Lilgert was alone on the bridge with quartermaster Karen Briker, his former lover who broke off their affair several weeks earlier. It was their first time working together since the breakup.

The affair had fuelled years of rumours, innuendo and accusations that something — a personal discussion, an argument or perhaps even something sexual — was distracting them from their duties.

Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein concluded the affair clearly contributed to the sinking, but at the sentencing she didn’t attempt to explain what role it played.

“Clearly, he was distracted by personal issues related to his relationship with Ms. Briker,” Stromberg-Stein said in June 2013.

“I do not need to speculate on what Mr. Lilgert was doing on the bridge that night. I know what he was not doing. He was not doing his job.”

Stromberg-Stein read a strongly worded decision that chided Lilgert for abdicating his responsibility on the bridge and then either lying or attempting to minimize his role in the sinking.

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At his sentencing, Lilgert delivered a tearful apology in a brief statement:

“I recognize that by saying I’m deeply sorry, it might not be enough or sufficient to address the pain and hurt. I deeply regret this tragic accident and its impact on so many people. To those who lost loved ones, to the families and friends of Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, I express my deep regret and sorrow. … I will carry the sorrow and grief I feel for the rest of my life. It is my sincere hope that all involved can move forward with their lives.”

Lilgert is still currently in jail.

Moving forward after the sinking

Since the 2006 sinking, Corrigan says BC Ferries has “completely overhauled their bridge protocols and heavy weather policy around sailings” but also admits that with 185,000 sailings per year, it’s a complex system with a lot of moving parts.

“We implemented a new safety program at BC Ferries called Sail Safe. It’s a partnership with our union and it basically engages our employees on day-to-day safety activities,” Corrigan said.

“It focuses on operational safety as well as workplace safety and we’ve had a number of safety improvements at BC Ferries. In fact we’ve had a safety cultural shift in the last 10 years.”

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Watch Global BC’s coverage of the fatal ferry sinking

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~ with files from Canadian Press