MV Queen of the North

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Queen of the North.jpg
MV Queen of the North
Name: M/V Stena Danica
Owner: Stena Line
Port of registry: Flag of Sweden.svg Sweden
Route: Gothenburg, Sweden and Frederikshavn
Builder: AG Weser Bremerhaven, Germany
Launched: 16 February 1969
Acquired: 28 June 1969
Fate: Sold to BC Ferries for CAD $13.8 million in April 1974
Name: M/V Queen of Surrey
Owner: BC Ferries
Port of registry: Flag of Canada.svg Canada
Route: Horseshoe BayDeparture Bay.
Acquired: April 1974
Out of service: 1976 to 1980
Fate: Ship was refit and renamed.
Name: M/V Queen of the North
Owner: BC Ferries
Port of registry: Flag of Canada.svg Canada
Out of service:
  • 1985 refit
  • 2001 refit
  • Fate: Sank on 22 March 2006
    General characteristics
    Class and type: RORO ferry
    Tonnage: 8,806 gross register tons (GRT)
    Length: 125 m
    Beam: 19.74 m
    Draft: 5.24 m
    Installed power:
    Speed: 20 knots


    • 700

    Car capacity:

    • 115

    M/V Queen of the North was a RORO ferry built by AG Weser of Germany and operated by BC Ferries, which ran along a scenic 18-hour route along the British Columbia Coast of Canada between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, a route also known as the Inside Passage. On March 22, 2006, with 101 persons aboard, she sailed off course, ran aground and sank. Two passengers, whose bodies were never found, are now considered lost in the tragedy. The ship had a gross tonnage of 8,806 (the 5th largest in fleet), and an overall length of 125 metres (14th longest in the fleet). She had a capacity of 700 passengers and 115 cars.


    The ship was built by AG Weser, Bremerhaven, Germany in 1969, and was originally operated by Stena Line as Stena Danica on the route between Gothenburg, Sweden and Frederikshavn in Denmark. She was sold to government-owned BC Ferries for CAD $13.8 million in April 1974 and was renamed Queen of Surrey, operating between Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. This busy route requires 8 transits per day and due to her RORO bow design, it was quickly evident that the vessel was unsuitable for this route since she could not be loaded and unloaded as fast as necessary. The ship was decommissioned in 1976 and laid up at BC Ferries' dockyard at Deas Island in Vancouver while the government debated what to do with her.

    In May 1980, after an extensive $10 million refit for longer haul, northern service (staterooms, more restaurants & cargo holds) she was renamed Queen of the North. She was assigned to the Inside Passage route between Port Hardy on Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert in north-western BC. She occasionally also served Bella Bella, Skidegate (Queen Charlotte Islands), and several other small, north-western coastal villages. Due to the isolation of some of these communities (where roads were poor or non-existent), she served as the main source of transport, picking up residents and medical patients, and dropping off food, mail and supplies.

    In 1985, she was refurbished and designated the "flagship" of BC Ferries' fleet. After the sinking of the M/S Estonia in 1994, BC Ferries installed a second set of internally welded doors to prevent the bow from flooding in rough seas.

    During 2001, she was given a major $500,000 refit at Vancouver Shipyards, which included a redesign and modernization of the passenger decks. However, owing to her older single hull design, the ship was not designed to survive a significant hull breach or the flooding of more than one bulkhead compartment. All newer ferries can survive flooding of at least two bulkhead compartments and because of this concern, the ship was intended to be replaced between 2009 and 2011.


    Route numbers are used internally by BC Ferries. Queen of the North sailed the following routes:


    Numbers in blue circles are ferry route numbers, in accordance to the route numbers listed above. Provincial highway trailblazers are added where appropriate.


    The Queen of the North sank after running aground on Gil Island in Wright Sound, 135 kilometres (70 nautical miles) south of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. She sank at 12:25 am or 12:43 am PST (08:43 UTC) on March 22, 2006; there are conflicting reports about the exact time. News reports have indicated that the vessel was one kilometre off course at the time of the collision.[1] She was bound for Port Hardy.

    According to emergency responders the ship took approximately an hour to sink, giving passengers time to evacuate into lifeboats. Eyewitness reports confirmed the approximate time between the accident and the sinking and also suggest that the ship sank stern first. The ship's final position is 53°19.917′N 129°14.729′W / 53.33195°N 129.245483°W / 53.33195; -129.245483Coordinates: 53°19.917′N 129°14.729′W / 53.33195°N 129.245483°W / 53.33195; -129.245483 according to the BC Ferries investigation.

    The ship's captain was reportedly not on the bridge at the time of the accident.[2] Local weather reports indicated winds gusting to 75 km/h in the vicinity of Wright Sound. According to Kevin Falcon, the BC Minister of Transportation, the autopilot equipment had been certified by Transport Canada only as recently as 2 March.[3]

    On 26 March 2007, BC Ferries released its internal investigation[4] into the sinking. The report concluded that the Queen of the North failed to make the required or any course changes at Sainty Point, and that the ship proceeded straight on an incorrect course for four nautical miles over 14 minutes until its grounding at 17.5 knots on Gil Island. The investigation found no evidence of alterations of speed at any time during the transit of Wright Sound and concluded that human factors were the primary cause of the sinking.[5]

    Evacuation and rescue

    Final moments of the Queen of the North

    A large number of small fishing and recreational vessels from Hartley Bay were the first on the scene to answer the distress call, arriving in a fleet of small watercraft in the dead of night to pick up survivors. Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Victoria tasked Canadian Coast Guard vessels CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, CCGC Point Henry, CCGS W.E. Ricker, CCGC Kitimat II and the CCGS Vector, along with 2 CH-149 Cormorant helicopters and 1 CC-115 Buffalo aircraft from the 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron at CFB Comox to the scene of the sinking.

    Originally the evacuation of the ship was reported to be a smooth one; however, stories of chest high water and trapped crew members surfaced on March 24. According to the official BC Ferries press release, 99 of the 101 passengers and crew were safely evacuated with only a few minor injuries,[6] and many of them found refuge in nearby Hartley Bay.

    Loss of life

    Two people, Shirley Rosette and Gerald Foisy of 100 Mile House, apparently failed to reach the safety of the lifeboats and perished along with the ship.[7] While a passenger reportedly told police the missing couple was seen on Hartley Bay during the rescue effort, a thorough search of the small aboriginal community of 200 people by police turned up nothing. In addition the couple did not contact relatives after the sinking. When the ferry was located by submersible, the two missing passengers were not found in the wreck.

    BC Ferries crisis response

    The response by BC Ferries CEO David Hahn was that, although this was a catastrophic event, the emergency response by the crew is evidence of the safety of ferry travel. Hahn also stated a top-speed collision with Gil Island would "rip apart the hull of any ship, even a massive cruise ship".[8] The Premier of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, echoed this and met with survivors in Prince Rupert on the day of the incident. Despite these events, the Premier expressed confidence in the ferry system, saying that "The fleet is safe. Not only is the fleet safe, but it is manned by professional crews that are trained in safety."[9] This was the second accident of a BC Ferries vessel within a year. On 30 June 2005, the Queen of Oak Bay lost power while docking.

    Coastal villages served by the Queen of the North expressed concern about replacement transportation, as many of the small communities rely on BC Ferries not only for transport, but for food, mail and supplies. BC Ferries employed the M/V Queen of Prince Rupert as the temporary vessel on the Inside Passage route until the replacement vessel, M/V Northern Adventure began service at the end of March 2007. The ferry corporation declined suggestions that the replacement ship be named in honour of the village of Hartley Bay.

    Investigations and legal aftermath

    BC Ferries completed its internal investigation while Canada's Transportation Safety Board is conducting its own separate investigation.

    On March 26, 2006, the Queen of the North was located by a manned submersible craft at a depth of 427 metres.[10] The ship is intact, according to BC Ferries, and it is "resting in silt on the keel and the silt covers the hull up to what's called the rubbing strake and above in some areas."[11] The ship is located at 53° 19.91’ N, 129° 14.72’ W. Images of the scene were given to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada as part of an ongoing investigation into the cause of the accident.

    On March 26, 2007, BC Ferries released the results of its investigation and blamed the accident on human error caused by three crew members, specifically the Queen of the North's helmswoman who was at the wheel of the ship as well as the ship's second and fourth officers who were in charge of navigation.[12] A Vancouver Sun editorial on the accident notes that two ferry crew members on the watch--the ferry's second and fourth officer--have been uncooperative during the course of the BC Ferries internal inquiry.[13] BC Ferries President David Hahn doubts that any new information would be forthcoming from a future disciplinary inquiry due to the uncooperative response by these two officers on night watch at the time of the accident.[14][15] The Vancouver Sun states that the BC Ferries report "dismisses the idea that confusion over how to use new bridge equipment installed a month before the crash had anything to do with the sinking."[14] The BC Ferries report also highlights the role of the fourth officer who had control of the ship from Sainty Point, but failed to make the necessary course correction. According to the report, The Vancouver Sun writes that:

    Just before the crash, the fourth officer screamed at the helmswoman to make a bold course correction--a 109-degree turn--and to switch off the autopilot. But she [the helmswoman] "stated not knowing where the switch was located." [The] BC Ferries' report questions the validity of this evidence "as the autopilot disengages simply with a single switch and would have been operated numerous times by the [helmswoman]." However, in its own report, BC Ferries states the master found it necessary to post a note for navigational crew on how to operate the autopilot and included procedures for changing modes. Evidence was given that the woman at the wheel didn't know the location of the ship when she took over as lookout--or that the ferry was about to crash until she saw trees. She said she was asked to make only one, maybe two small course changes as directed by the fourth officer after she started her shift but that was...until just before the vessel hit Gil Island.[14]

    The Vancouver Sun does cite an earlier safety board advisory which said that the bridge crew "were confused about how to use a new steering mode selector switch--that among other things controls whether the ship is on autopilot or manual steering--installed in a retrofit in February [2006]."[14] However, BC Ferries concludes the bridge crew working the night of the disaster "chose" to use newly installed steering controls in a way "different" than instructed but that this choice did not appear to have been the cause for the grounding of the Queen of the North.[14] David Hahn states that:

    "The ship never altered course at all. It never changed its speed, it just ran straight into Gil Island...There's nothing to indicate they [the 3 crew members] ever tried anything, It's just human error."[14]

    While the three key crew members are reportedly cooperating with a separate Transportation Safety Board (TSB) inquiry into the tragedy, Michael Smyth, a newspaper columnist at The Province, notes that the TSB does not have the authority to assign blame to any party involved in the accident, unlike the BC Ferries internal inquiry.[16] Consequently, no one can be held accountable for the sinking of the Queen of the North.

    On 27 March 2006, Alexander and Maria Kotai filed a lawsuit against BC Ferries for negligence, claiming that the company failed to train the crew adequately, supervise the bridge crew, keep proper lookout, operate at a safe speed, and conduct the evacuation to prevent or minimize injuries. The Kotais were moving house at the time from Kitimat to Nanaimo, and lost many of their personal possessions in the sinking. The amount of damages that they are seeking has not been specified.[17][18]

    On April 24, 2007, BC Ferries fired three Queen of the North crew members who were on the bridge when the ship collided with Gil Island and sank. BC Ferries claims that these three employees were not cooperating fully with all investigators.[19] The B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers' Union represents the ferry crew members. The union has indicated that it will appeal the terminations.

    As of May 5, 2007, two investigations are still ongoing. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) should release its report soon. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are continuing a criminal investigation into the sinking.[20] The TSB has provided copies of its draft report to BC Ferries, the ferry workers union, and all three fired crew members according to TV news reports. The TSB's final report,#M06W0052, was released to the public on March 12, 2008, viewable on their website: The TSB's main conclusion is that sound navigational practices and regulations were not followed by the 4 unionized navigational crew at the time. RCMP charges have not be filed as of March 21, 2009.

    On Tuesday morning March 16, 2010 in B.C. Provincial Court in Vancouver, a charge of criminal negligence causing death was laid against Karl Lilgert. He was the navigating officer responsible for steering the vessel at the time of the accident. The charge was reported in statement issued by the province's Criminal Justice Branch.[21]

    Environmental concerns

    The ship had approximately 220,000 litres of diesel fuel on board and 23,000 litres of lubricating oil.[22] She was also carrying 16 vehicles, and her foundering created an oil slick that quickly spread throughout the sound. Containment efforts began that morning, and on 25 March 2006, officials said that it "appears no major damage has been done to the environment in the area."[23] The long-term effects on Wright Sound's biosystem, and especially its shellfish population, are not yet known. Officials doubted any salvaging of the vessel would be possible. Burrard Clean Operations has been hired to conduct environmental response operations, if required.

    In the legislature in March 2007, NDP Opposition Critic for the Environment Shane Simpson questioned the lack of action in the past year on removing the fuel from the sunken ship. Minister of Environment Barry Penner advised against "armchair engineering," responded that waterways and sunken vessels were federal responsibilities, and that BC Ferries would be working with the Canada Coast Guard to put together a plan that would not result in the unintended release of fuel into the environment.[24]

    Preceded by
    Victoria Class ferries
    BC Ferries Flagship
    1985 - 1993
    Succeeded by
    Spirit Class ferries


    1. Mini-subs look for missing couple on doomed B.C. ferry.
    2. | Former captain blasts crew of sunken B.C. ferry.
    3. Officials prepare to launch mini-submarine to seek sunken B.C. ferry.
    4. BC Ferries internal report (PDF) March 26, 2007.
    5. News Release.
    6. "BC Ferries Press Release" (PDF). BC Ferries. 22 March 2006. Retrieved 2006-03-23. 
    7. | First glimpse of sunken ferry could come soon.
    8. Mini-Sub to hunt wreck for missing couple.
    10. Submersible Finds British Columbia Ferry Wreckage - News Story - KIRO Seattle.
    11. CKNW News Talk 980 - CKNWAM.
    12. Queen of the North bridge crew face disciplinary probe.
    13. "Ferry worker's refusal to cooperate puts still more passengers at risk," editorial of The Vancouver Sun, March 27, 2007, p. A12.
    14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Cindy E. Harnett, "Probe fingers crew in ferry sinking, The Vancouver Sun, March 27, 2007, p. A4.
    15. Queen of the North bridge crew face disciplinary probe.
    16. "Key crew should tell truth about what happened" by Michael Smyth, The Province, March 27, 2007. p. A7.
    17. CKNW News Talk 980 - CKNWAM.
    18. Passengers sue BC Ferries for alleged negligence.
    19. "Distracted crew ignored basic navigation rules in ferry sinking: TSB report". pp. 1. 03-12. .
    20. 3 Queen of the North ferry workers fired.
    22. Story | The Vancouver Sun.
    23. | Article.
    24. Question Period: Fuel Removal from Queen of the North.

    External links

    Direct Link to video[dead link] (requires Windows Media Player)