Sunday, September 21, 2008

2006 Queen of the North

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. A missing couple whose bodies have not been 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.

General characteristics
Displacement: 8,806 gross register tons (GRT)
Length: 125 m
Beam: 19.74 m
Draft: 5.24 m
Propulsion: 2 × MAN V8V diesels
11 638 kW (15 600 hp)
Speed: 20 knots
Passengers: 700
Car capacity: 115

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 unsuited 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.


Final moments of the Queen of the NorthThe 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′WCoordinates: 53°19.917′N 129°14.729′W according to the BC Ferries investigation.

The ship's captain was reportedly not on the bridge at the time of the accident. 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.

On 26 March 2007, BC Ferries released its internal investigation 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.

Environmental concerns
The ship had approximately 220,000 litres of diesel fuel on board and 23,000 litres of lubricating oil. 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."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.

On March 26, 2006, the Queen of the North was located by a manned submersible craft at a depth of 427 metres.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.". The ship is located at 53° 19.91’ N, 129° 14.72’ W. Images of the scene will be given to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada as part of an ongoing investigation into the cause of the accident.

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.

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