Island Dead Ahead
The internal report by BC Ferries on the sinking of the Queen of the North a year ago has now been released and the results point squarely to poor practices by the crew members manning the bridge that dark night as a major key to the tragedy.
After a year of silence by the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union and two of the employees directly involved, what has long been suspected by many observers has now been confirmed: crew members were so lax on March 22, 2006 that the music they were playing could be heard over the radio by the marine traffic controller in Prince Rupert.
The report softens the situation as “human error”, but I suspect the families of Shirley Rosette and Gerald Foisy, who died that night in the cold northern waters, might beg to differ if they were to review of the transcripts and the “black box” recordings.
“Human error” includes misunderstanding the equipment or getting confused in the heat of the moment.
I’m not sure that human error includes being so distracted that a ship could run off-course for 14 minutes and that highly trained crew members wouldn’t notice an island looming before the vessel.
Anyone who has been on the bridge of a BC Ferry would know that the equipment is top-notch and the crews are remarkably well-trained. They receive paid time off from their regular schedules for additional training on equipment and procedures related to their position.
The Ferries Union, led by the fiesty Jackie Miller, has fought to include this training time in workers’ contracts.
The Ferries Union has done what all good unions do. It has fought for competitive wages and benefits. It has worked to ensure that workers have the proper training. And it has protected workers from the spectre of unfair management practices. Jackie Miller may rub a few folks the wrong way, but you couldn’t suggest that she wasn’t doing her job.
But by sheltering employees shown now to bear a large measure of responsibility for that night, she has devalued the gains she made over the past decade.
I expect that most ferry workers do not condone colleagues who don’t follow proper procedure and I can’t see how they could support the asinine position of their union in protecting employees who have messed up.
The report from the Transportation Safety Board is now being circulated in draft form to BC Ferries, the Union and other interested parties.
Given that two of the employees involved didn’t have the guts to face their own employer with what happened that night, it will be interesting to see what they will say under the cover of the anonymity provided by the Board.