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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Maritime Logistics Professional

MV Queen of the North

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on March 22, 2013

An avoidable and tragic grounding that led to safety improvements

The ro-ro ferry remembered as Queen of the North was built in Germany in 1969 and originally named MV Stena Danica.  It operated between Gothenburg, Sweden and Frederikshavn, Denmark until 1974, when it was purchased by BC Ferries.  Renamed MV Queen of Surrey, it operated between Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver and Nanaimo, Vancouver Island.  Found to be too large for this service, it was laid up for several years.  Following an extensive refurbishing, it was renamed Queen of the North and operated on the Inside Passage between Port Hardy, Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert, near the Alaskan border.  The ferry also called occasionally at various small fishing and native villages en route.  It quickly became a lifeline for these communities and their best link to the outside world.   On the evening of 21 March 2006, Queen of the North departed Prince Rupert with 59 passengers and 42 crew members for what was expected to be a routine voyage to Port Hardy.  Just south of Prince Rupert, the route enters Grenville Channel between the mainland on the port side and Pitt Island and then Farrant Island on the starboard side.  Grenville Channel is 72 kilometers (45 miles) in length and almost straight as an arrow.  Exiting Grenville Channel, the route enters Wright Sound and turns to port, avoiding Gil Island dead ahead, and moving on to the next channel.  At approximately 0021 on the morning of 22 March 2006, Queen of the North inexplicitly missed the turn exiting Grenville Channel.  It continued on for 14 minutes after it should have changed course, transiting four nautical miles, and grounded at cruising speed (17.5 knots) off Gil Island.  Although heavily damaged, the ferry remained afloat for about one hour.  Fishing and recreational vessels from nearby Hartley Bay arrived quickly to assist as people evacuated onto the lifeboats.  Various Canadian Coast Guard vessels were also dispatched.  Due to the shock and confusion, along with the inclement weather, no accurate list of the evacuees was compiled during this process.  It was only later that officials determined that two of the passengers were unaccounted for.  They have never been found and are presumed to have died as a result of the grounding and sinking.  The ferry was not equipped with a voyage data recorder (VDR), so conversations on the bridge were not recorded.  There were two persons on the bridge at the time: the fourth officer, and the helmsman.  The second officer was on duty, but down below in the officers’ lounge at the time.  The two officers did not cooperate with either the BC Ferries internal investigation or the investigation conducted by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada and the helmsman made contradictory statements.  In its investigation, the TSB recommended that large Canadian passenger ferries be required to install VDRs and that those ferries conduct regular fire and boat drills, including passenger counts.  Those remedial measures have now been instituted.

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