Who was really in control?
To the Editor,
Evidence being presented at the trial of the navigating officer who was on watch when the BC Ferries’ vessel MV Queen of the North sank is disturbing, to say the least. Media reports of court proceedings indicate that the accused officer was alone on the bridge, except for a helmsman who has admitted that she needed assistance to properly steer the ship on leaving Prince Rupert, and that she didn’t understand the mechanism of the autopilot.
When I first went to sea on ocean-going freighters more than a half-century ago, it was standard operating procedure to double-up the bridge watch while traversing congested and narrow waters like the English Channel, or in the usually fog-bound North Sea when approaching very busy ports in Germany or Holland, for example.
The master would usually double-up with the second mate, while the chief and third mates shared the other watch.
The food fare during the four hours usually consisted of a rather dry sandwich or two; there was never a thought of one of the watch-keepers going below decks to eat, as has been reported at the trial.
The helmsman was always one of your most trustworthy able-bodied seamen (AB); never would a novice be at the steering wheel in such a situation.
In fact, most shipmasters I came into contact with during my many years at sea would almost always have a favourite expert helmsman at the wheel when entering and leaving port; that was certainly my own modus operandi when I was master, later on in my career at sea.
It’s quite amazing that BC Ferries had a million dollar man running the company—hand-picked from New York City by the BC government, no less—and yet the corporation apparently lacked some very basics in bridge safety.