The Transportation Safety Board and RCMP are investigating an incident that saw a Pacific Ferries water taxi bound for Gibsons slam into the rocks off Bowen Island last week.
The incident happened just after 5:30 p.m. May 25 when the Coastal Runner, with its 39 passengers and three crew, ran into Hood Point. It was taking commuters from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons.
“The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is gathering information on this occurrence and following up with the owner. We’re going to interview the vessel’s master and once the vessel is taken out of the water for further inspection, we’ll await to see what the damage is,” said Chris Krepski, TSB spokesman. “Once we’ve taken a look at that information, we’ll assess what we’re going to do next.”
A statement from the RCMP confirmed the West Coast Marine Services Unit would also be looking into what caused the crash.
Gibsons resident Karin Singbeil said everyone was enjoying the smooth conditions on the water right up until another passenger noticed the boat was off course.
“I heard somebody shout, ‘There’s a cliff. There’s a cliff. Stop. Stop. We’re going to crash.’”
The deckhand bolted toward the wheelhouse, calling out for the captain to cut power to the engine, Singbeil said. But there wasn’t much space or time left before the boat hit the rocks.
“And then, wham. When we hit, I was thrown forward and my face planted into the seatback in front of me,” she said. “Everybody sort of screamed when we hit and then there was silence because we thought, ‘Well now what? Does it start to fill with water?’”
The Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue unit from Horseshoe Bay was the first to arrive on the scene and start checking the passengers for injuries and the hull for damage. The Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft showed up to escort the vessel to Gibsons.
“Everyone was happy to be back on terra firma. We were really, really lucky it did not end worse because, had he not cut the engine when everyone screamed, he could have hit that cliff with a great deal more force, and I don’t know what would have happened,” Singbeil said.
Pacific Ferries’ owner Ihab Shaker said he was “thanking his stars” following the crash.
“We were very lucky. It could have been worse. It could have been way, way worse,” he said.
The boat’s pilot is certified by Transport Canada and has made the crossing safely and on time hundreds of times, Shaker said. In this case, he was off course.
“He feels so bad. He feels so sorry,” Shaker said. “In his own words, he said ‘I wasn’t paying enough attention.’”
Shaker said he’s still assessing whether the employee will face disciplinary action but he is temporarily off the job. “We all are humans. We make mistakes.”
Shaker said he too apologized to the passengers.
Moving forward, Shaker said he will enforce new means of making sure his staff follow operational procedures.
After meetings with TSB and Transport Canada staff on Monday and Tuesday, the Coastal Runner has been deemed to be in operational condition.
Unsettling as the incident was, Singbeil was back on the company’s other vessel the next morning.
“Even with all that commotion, we still got home a half-hour before the ferry would have gotten us home. It just shows how desperate we are to get home for supper and how inadequate BC Ferries’ service is,” she said.
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