Beloved B.C. captain, crew member lost in fatal tugboat incident remembered 1 year later

Click to play video: 'Renewed safety calls one year after tugboat sinking off B.C.’s coast claims two lives' Renewed safety calls one year after tugboat sinking off B.C.’s coast claims two lives
Friday marks the first anniversary since the Ingenika sank during a storm while towing a barge. As Emad Agahi reports, the family of the two crew members who perished say we need to learn from the tragedy, so their deaths will not be in vain. – Feb 11, 2022

It’s been one year since Judy Carlick-Pearson lost her husband, Troy Pearson, in a tragic tugboat accident she’s certain was preventable.

The MV Ingenika sunk on Feb. 11 last year while pulling a barge through the Gardner Canal towards the Rio Tinto Kemano Generating Station south of Kitimat, B.C.

Pearson, 58, and crew member Charley Cragg, 25, died in the frigid waters during a raging storm with wind gusts of more than 70 knots per hour. Only the vessel’s first mate, 19 years old, survived.

Click to play video: 'Remembering the victims of a fatal tugboat sinking' Remembering the victims of a fatal tugboat sinking
Remembering the victims of a fatal tugboat sinking – Feb 11, 2022

“I’ll never be the same. My son will never be the same,” Carlick-Pearson said from her home in Prince Rupert.

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“Our friends and family, and his parents — losing a son like that in a tragic accident. It’s something your body will never recover from.”

Read more: ‘Charley paid the biggest price’: B.C. mom calls for regulatory change after son’s tug sinks

Pearson, an experienced mariner, objected to working through the storm that day, Carlick-Pearson said. It remains unclear what “pushed him to that point” when he left the docks that day against his gut instincts, she added.

“Troy wasn’t a hot shot kind of guy. He wasn’t the guy that would take risks, especially if the risks involved other people,” she said. “That afternoon, he did not want to go.”

The Ingenika was too small to be towing such a large barge, especially in “hurricane-force winds,” added Charley’s mother, Genevieve Cragg. She said a criminal investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Click to play video: 'B.C. tugboat deckhand raises concerns after another close call' B.C. tugboat deckhand raises concerns after another close call
B.C. tugboat deckhand raises concerns after another close call – Nov 7, 2021

Since the death of their loved ones, Cragg and Carlick-Pearson have led a campaign calling for stricter regulations and workplace safety enforcement for those operating small tugs.

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Tugs under 15 gross tonnes have long been exempt from certain federal regulations, including a requirement to have onboard safety management systems. According to the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 400, they are also seldom inspected by Transport Canada.

The rules are changing, but implementation is slow, Cragg and Carlick-Pearson said.

“We have to be able to have more accountability and put more onus on these big, large companies that are taking contracts in our territory,” Carlick-Pearson said.

“We need to change our policies with small tugboats, we need to make sure these companies are really being diligent about training their staff and having their staff know that they have rights to say no.”

Read more: Tugboat ‘incident’ near Kitimat, B.C., leaves two men dead: RCMP

“There’s a lot of brilliant operating companies, but there are some that look for loopholes and they try and take what they can get and fly under the radar of Transport Canada,” added Cragg.

“But it’s not only the operating companies, it’s the commercial industry — these huge companies that are taking under-bid contracts for the sake of getting the cheapest deal to get their goods shipped without any accountability into the safety and how it actually lands into their dock.”

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Their calls are echoed by ILWU Local 400 and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which described workplace safety standards for towage operators as “a race to the bottom” in a news release.

Click to play video: 'Deadly B.C. tugboat sinking prompts calls for changes to marine safety regulations' Deadly B.C. tugboat sinking prompts calls for changes to marine safety regulations
Deadly B.C. tugboat sinking prompts calls for changes to marine safety regulations – Apr 28, 2021

“We told Transport Canada 12 years ago that they need to have vessel regulatory oversight and they haven’t done it,” said Peter Lahey, ILWU Local 400 executive board member, in an interview.

“Over numerous years now, tugboats have been running into islands, tripping over tow lines, barges smashing into beaches … and some loss of life — sinkings and groundings of vessels all over this coast.”

Since 2016, the Transportation Safety Board has recorded 350 tugboat and barge incidents across the country, including 24 sunk vessels and two fatalities.

The union has asked Transport Canada to speed up implementation of new safety management rules for small vessels, and urged the federal government to fund and train inspectors to enforce the rules.

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Read more: Tugboat runs aground in same B.C. waterway where 2 killed earlier this year

In emailed comments, Transport Canada said new safety management regulations are on the way that would apply to all Canadian vessels, including tugs. The agency also intends to propose new amendments to the Marine Personnel Regulations, which will be discussed at the next virtual Canadian Marine Advisory Council meeting this spring.

“Transport Canada is planning to launch a Compliance Inspection Initiative for tugs under 15 gross tons in Spring 2022 on the Pacific Coast,” wrote senior communications advisor Sau Sau Liu.

“This is to help small tug and towboat owner/operators understand and comply with the requirements of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and its regulations.”

Transport Canada also helped create a new Pacific Coast Tow and Workboat Safety Advisory group, she added, which aims to promote best practices and make recommendations to regulators.

Click to play video: 'Widow launches petition to retrieve sunken tug boat near Kitimat' Widow launches petition to retrieve sunken tug boat near Kitimat
Widow launches petition to retrieve sunken tug boat near Kitimat – Mar 17, 2021

To this day, the wreckage of the Ingenika has not been raised from the Gardner Canal.

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The day it sunk was Charley’s first day on the job and, according to his mother, he had no previous experience or training, despite the dangerous nature of the work.

Cragg honoured his memory on Friday with a ski trip, because Charley loved skiing.

“To lose a son, to lose one of your own — there are no words to describe it, really,” she told Global News from Cypress Mountain. “You don’t move through it.”

In a November 2021 presentation to Transport Canada and stakeholders, she wrote that her son and Pearson paid the ultimate price in a “flawed system that is fraught with inadequacy at every step.”

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