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yikes...another ferry accident


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VANCOUVER (CP) - Rescuers plucked dozens of people from lifeboats off B.C.'s north coast early Wednesday after a large ferry hit a rock and sank in choppy seas and high winds.


All of the 101 people aboard were rescued and accounted for, B.C. Ferries said in a statement released several hours after the incident.

Most of them were taken to a community centre in Hartley Bay where workers there had given them blankets and coffee. None were immediately available to speak to the media.

The Queen of the North was sailing south to Port Hardy from Prince Rupert, a 450-kilometre trip along what's known as B.C.'s Inside Passage, a series of islands just off the north coast of the province.

The 125-metre-long vessel was reported to be completely submerged about 135 kilometres from Prince Rupert after hitting the rock, listing to one side and then sinking.

Nicole Robinson, a receptionist at the nursing station in Hartley Bay, said she talked to several members of the ferry's crew who were sleeping when the ship began to take on water.

"They heard a loud bang like it grinded a bit and they said the cabin started filling with water," she said.

Some people were hurt, but not seriously, said Robinson. Many were "stunned."

"We've just had a few patients come and go, minor injuries. The community all got together with blankets; everybody's pretty cold but they're all down at a community hall," Robinson said.

Hartley Bay resident Wally Bolton, helping out at the village cultural centre where the ferry evacuees were taken, said a medivac helicopter was taking some passengers with minor injuries to Prince Rupert.

"I know there's one head injury and I think there's a sprained wrist and a case of high blood pressure," Bolton said. "All the rest of the other people are OK."

Bolton said the evacuees were shook up and tired.

Rescuers were on the scene soon after the 12:43 a.m. incident, said Capt. Leah Byrne of the Search and Rescue Centre in Victoria.

"The joint rescue co-ordination centre dispatched a large number of assets to the scene, including a cormorant helicopter and buffalo aircraft," she said.

Shelby Robinson, 13, said the entire village of Hartley Bay, with about 200 residents, pitched in when the distress call came in.

"I stayed here to get ready for them when they came in, get blankets ready and everything," she said.

Robinson confirmed fishermen from the isolated village rushed out to help evacuate the sinking ferry.

"Most of the guys went out and got their boats running right away and they took people in by groups," she said, adding witness said the ferry was listing to one side.

Seas were reported to be choppy and winds were blowing at about 75 kilometres per hour.

"From what we hear, it took about an hour for the ship to sink so most of the people did manage to get onto lifeboats," Byrne said. "There was an orderly evacuation of personnel from the vessel, including passengers and crew."

According to the B.C. Ferries website, the ship was built in Germany in 1969 and refitted in 2001. It can hold up to 700 people and 115 cars.

The book The Ships of British Columbia says B.C. Ferries bought the boat for $13.8 million in 1974 and named it the Queen of Surrey. The ferry was retired in 1976 until it was decided to put her on the Queen Charlotte run in 1980. More than $10 million was spent to prepare her for her days as The Queen of the North.


A list of some recent accidents involving B.C. Ferries:

June 30, 2005: Ferry Queen of Oak Bay loses power as it enters the Horseshoe Bay terminal at West Vancouver, slamming into a nearby marina and crushing 22 boats. There were no injuries.

Sept. 14, 2000: Ferry Spirit of Vancouver Island hits a 10-metre power boat outside the Swartz Bay ferry terminal near Victoria. Two people on the power boat are killed.

Nov. 7, 1995: Ferry Mayne Queen crashes into private marina on Bowen Island, damaging several moored boats. Blame is placed on mechanical or human error in transferring control between two consoles as ferry left dock.

Aug. 13, 1992: Two people are killed at the Departure Bay terminal in Nanaimo when the ferry Queen of New Westminister sailed from the terminal as a van was driving across the ramp leading to the ship's upper deck and plunged 15 metres into the water.

March 12, 1992: B.C. Ferries vessel en route to Nanaimo slams into Japanese coal freighter Shinwa Maru shortly after leaving the Tsawwassen ferry terminal south of Vancouver. Seventeen ferry passengers injured.

Feb. 6, 1992: Private high-speed catamaran passenger ferry Royal Vancouver collides with B.C. Ferries' Queen of Saanich in early-morning fog in Active Pass. Some 23 Royal Vancouver passengers injured. Inquiry blames fast ferry for not tracking bigger car ferry on radar.

August 1985: Ferry Queen of Cowichan runs over pleasure boat near Horseshoe Bay terminal in West Vancouver, killing three people.

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good to hear no one was badly hurt - still pretty traumatic :o

but, a rock?! really?! i wonder how that happened - if the captain was a newbie or just asleep at the wheel...

Aug. 13, 1992: Two people are killed at the Departure Bay terminal in Nanaimo when the ferry Queen of New Westminister sailed from the terminal as a van was driving across the ramp leading to the ship's upper deck and plunged 15 metres into the water.

I remember this story well. This is the reason I am obsessive about making sure my window is open and my seatbelt undone whenever driving on or off the ferry.

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I've been watching footage on this all morning.

The one thing I keep wondering, and which no one is mentioning, is whether anyone had their pets with them.

I always have my dog in my car when I'm on the ferry, and I would really like to hear, officially, that animals were evacuated from the vehicles before this ferry went down.

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