quinta-feira, março 13, 2008

Queen of the North

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Up, Down, Thread Ahead: None, Thread Back: Queen of the North update.

1. January 29 - B.C. Ferries loses appeal of gag order.
2. March 3 - Safety Board, RCMP to release findings on ferry sinking.
3. March 12 - Ferry report falls short on key questions.

The report itself is not yet available on line so this is just pundit jizz ... but she could be right (see #3).

B.C. Ferries loses appeal of gag order, Justine Hunter, 29/01/08.

VANCOUVER — B.C. Ferries will have to keep a lid on any report it plans to release on the sinking of the Queen of the North if it includes confidential information provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

The board, which is investigating the March, 2006, sinking, handed over the sunken ferry's computer hard drive to B.C. Ferries on the condition the information remain secret until after the board releases its report.

B.C. Ferries took the gag order to court, claiming it wants to publish its own report first.

After losing in a lower court, three justices of the B.C. Court of Appeal also rejected the company's argument.

"The fact that data was given in confidence was of itself sufficient reason for the board's refusal," Justice Peter Lowrey wrote in the decision released yesterday.

B.C. Ferries claimed in court that it should be able to use and release the computer information before the board's report is made public because doing so could not impair the TSB investigation.

Court documents say the board is expected to release its report on the sinking that killed two passengers before the March anniversary date.

An internal report made public by B.C. Ferries last year said the fourth officer on the bridge failed to alter the ship's course before the ferry slammed into Gil Island and sank.

Justice John Hall wrote that there are strong public policy reasons for giving confidentiality to the safety board in its investigation of accidents.

"Although assertions were advanced about concerns of the appellant relative to the safety of the travelling public on Ferries, I do not consider that the record here establishes a compelling case to permit a court to relieve the appellant of its agreement," Mr. Hall wrote.

Safety Board, RCMP to release findings on ferry sinking, Justine Hunter, 05/03/08.

VICTORIA — As the Transportation Safety Board prepares to release its final report next week on the sinking of the Queen of the North, the RCMP major crimes unit confirmed yesterday it is nearing the end of its two-year-long criminal investigation into the affair.

The TSB will try to explain what went wrong in the early hours of March 22, 2006, when the BC Ferries vessel struck Gil Island after the bridge crew failed to make a routine but crucial course correction.

The ferry crash killed a couple, Gerard Foisy and Shirley Rosette, who each left two children behind.

The TSB report is expected to reveal why the course alteration was not made in the 14 minutes before the ferry slammed into the side of Gil Island at full speed.

But the board isn't tasked with finding fault in the accident. That may fall to the RCMP.

Last month, the RCMP turned over a report to the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch, which will decide whether anyone should be charged in the sinking. But Crown lawyers from the special prosecution section came back to police with questions that are still being reviewed, RCMP spokesman Sergeant Pierre Lemaitre said yesterday.

Last fall, the RCMP said that some witnesses had still not provided statements to police. They would not identify the unco-operative witnesses, but confirmed they were union members who served on the ship and include members of the bridge crew.

Sgt. Lemaitre would not say if those individuals have since co-operated with the police investigators.

"If and when this matter goes before the courts, a lot of that will be of interest to the public, the challenges to the investigators," he predicted.

Stan Lowe, a spokesman for the Criminal Justice Branch, described the RCMP report as "abbreviated" and said the Crown has "a number of areas where we have requested further information. ... Once we receive that information, then we will start assessing charges."

The TSB report will be the culmination of one of the largest investigations in the organization's history. A final report was approved in January, and the principal players, including BC Ferries and the union representing the crew, have received copies.

The document is at the printers and is scheduled to be released on March 12.

The board sparked a controversy last October when it issued a "safety concern" about drug use among BC Ferries crew members that was brought to light by its investigation.

The TSB called on BC Ferries to review its drug policies when its investigation into the sinking found senior crew members failed to rein in regular marijuana use by workers on the ship.

But that was a side issue to the main TSB report, which had been expected last October. That report was derailed when BC Ferries released statements from crew members that suggested a deckhand was alone at the helm at the time of the crash.

BC Ferries has already released a report on the sinking that pointed to human error, but the company could not explain what happened in the 14 minutes before the crash because it did not get co-operation from all the bridge crew.

It lost a court battle with the TSB to release data from the sunken ferry's computer hard drive that would contain information on the course, but that information may come to light next week.

Ferry report falls short on key questions, Justine Hunter, 12/03/08.

VICTORIA — A major report on the sinking of the Queen of the North will be released today, but sources familiar with the contents say it falls short of answering the key question of how crew on the bridge steered the ferry straight into the conspicuous bulk of Gil Island.

The ferry slammed into the island at full speed in the early hours of March 22, 2006, as the vessel made its scheduled run from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy. Of the 101 passengers and crew, 99 made it safely to shore.

To date there has been no explanation of how those on the bridge missed a routine course correction and failed to notice the mountainous island looming directly ahead in the 14 minutes before the ferry's hull was torn open on the island's rocky shore.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada's final report today is the work of one of its largest investigations yet. The agency has already released preliminary reports citing regular use of marijuana by the ferry's crew, and calling for improved requirements for bridge staffing.

Other investigations have raised serious questions about why the bridge crew, equipped with the latest in navigation equipment, didn't notice the island until it was too late.

Fourteen minutes before the crash, the ferry should have steered eastward into Wright Sound. B.C. Ferries, the ship's owner, blamed human error, concluding there was no mechanical failure.

But company officials say lack of co-operation from the bridge crew made it impossible to explain why no course correction was made.

Peter Ritchie, a lawyer representing two girls who lost their father, Gerald Foisy, in the accident, said yesterday that is the explanation he will be looking for today.

"I'm very anxious to see what happened in those 14 minutes; it seems to be the whole point of this inquiry," he said.

"One would hope they could illuminate this."

The crew's testimony to the TSB is confidential and the board is not tasked with assigning blame for the accident.

The bodies of Mr. Foisy and Shirley Rosette were not recovered and they were eventually declared dead.

Alfred Jack, Ms. Rosette's brother-in-law, said her two sons are still struggling and have received no settlement while the various investigations, including an RCMP probe, grind on.

Both families expect to be briefed this morning by board officials, who have promised to include a video presentation.

"We're not expecting much, but we're just hoping to find out what happened," Mr. Jack said.

Between the marijuana revelations and reports that music was playing loudly enough on the bridge that it could be heard on transmissions over ship-to-shore radio, the question may turn today to who is responsible for apparently lax safety standards on the ship.