The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has come out with three recommendations to improve passenger vessel safety, resulting from its investigation into the fatal capsizing of the Leviathan II, off Tofino two years ago, in which six people died.
The board’s first recommendation is that Transport Canada require commercial passenger vessel operators on the West Coast of Vancouver Island to identify those areas and conditions conducive to the formation of hazardous waves.
READ MORE: Report due in deadly whale-watching sinking
The board also recommends that Transport Canada require passenger vessel operators to identify hazards and come up with strategies to reduce these risks.
The third recommendation is aimed at reducing response time in the event of an accident. The TSB said it took 45 minutes after the Leviathan II capsized before SAR authorities became aware of the incident.
“It’s time for Transport Canada to work with whale-watching companies and other passenger vessel operators to ensure the experience they offer is not just thrilling, but as safe as it can be,” said Kathy Fox, Chair of the TSB in a statement.
WATCH: TSB release findings into sinking of Leviathan II near Tofino
“Our recommendations today are aimed at putting in place measures to avoid accidents in the first place, and to expedite rescue efforts if an accident occurs.”
The investigation determined that sea conditions in the area were favourable to “breaking waves,” which caused the vessel to capsize.
During a news conference on Wednesday, TSB investigator Clinton Rebeiro said the captain was aware of the environment and conditions at the time.
“He also specifically looked at the area for breaking waves and he saw none and based on that he determined it was safe to position the vessel there and for the passengers to watch sea lions.”
It was determined that the wave struck the vessel and the crew did not have time to transmit a distress call. According to the TSB, the vessel had no means to automatically send the call.
On Wednesday, Jamie’s Whaling Station, the company involved in the Tofino sinking, issued a statement saying:
We know that on Oct. 25, 2015, things went very wrong during what was supposed to be a routine trip. The TSB report has confirmed that the only significant factor causing the accident was the extreme circumstance of a large breaking wave hitting the starboard quarter of the vessel. The TSB’s conclusion is that the vessel’s stability met and even exceeded Transport Canada’s stability standards.
The company said some of the measures it has taken since the accident include:
- In addition to the Transport Canada required lifejackets already onboard our vessels, we have invested in manually Inflatable Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) to be worn by passengers when on outer decks on our vessels. Canadian law does not require people on these vessels to wear a PFD but Jamie’s Whaling Station reached the conclusion that this was an increased measure of safety that could be taken for our passengers and crew.
- We invested in additional floatation devices to be located in areas of the vessels which could easily float free in case of an accident.
- All of the regular safety drills required by law were being performed before the accident. After the accident, the experiences and recommendations of the crew were incorporated into the drills to make them more valuable.
- Although not required by Transport Canada regulations, we have reinstated the use of Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBS) on all our vessels, including zodiacs.
- We have enhanced our scheduled radio call-in procedures between our offices and all tour vessels.
- Made improvements to make it easier to launch life rafts on our vessels by installing cradles that do not require lifting by the crew.
- Improvements were made to the extensive safety management practices we already had in place, including improving and streamlining our bi-weekly safety drills.
“We know that lives were lost and appreciate that no amount of reflection or promises can bring those people back to their loved ones. We will continue working together with our industry to ensure we all provide the safest possible experience to our guests and ensure we not only meet but exceed safety regulations. We know the well-being of our passengers and crew depends on us and we take that responsibility seriously.”
Not far enough
The Ahousat First Nation, who was first on the scene after the disaster, says the recommendations don’t go far enough.
Cheif Councillor Greg Louie says his impression is that they’re directed at larger commercial vessels — and should apply to small craft as well.
“That’s the way I read it anyway, as probably more specific to the whale watching boats, but you know if there was a broader, general statement to all vessels that travel through our waters and our territory, these recommendations should be widespread.”
Louie says coastal and First Nations communities like his are integral to the rescue process and says he’d like to have seen a recommendation for firmer government support for their work.
“It would be great if we could have our own life-saving boat here, plus some other equipment that’s essential to this. If there could be not just a one-time, but ongoing financial support to Ahousat. Because the mariners are always going to be travelling our waters.”
Louie says the Ahousat did get some funding to build a rescue command centre in the wake of the accident.
The community is widely credited with saving lives — after its members rushed to pull victims of the Leviathan from the icy waters.