NEWS

Ferry captain 'fired for raising safety concerns'

02/14/2013 07:57 EST | Updated 04/16/2013 05:12 EDT
The captain of the B.C. ferry that slammed into an island and sank in 2006 says he wasn't fired over the sinking, but for raising safety concerns later.

Colin Henthorne was testifying in the trial of fourth officer Karl Lilgert, who's charged with criminal negligence causing the deaths of two passengers in the sinking of the Queen of the North.

Henthorne says during a BC Ferries inquiry into the sinking, he was asked if he'd ever raised any safety concerns with the company during his career.

He told the court that when he listed a series of concerns he had raised, company officials became angry and he was later fired over the phone.

Henthorne says the company insisted the firing resulted from the way he raised the safety concerns, but Henthorne says he believes he was sacked because he attempted to air the concerns in the first place.

On the ship's electronic chart system, Henthorne said it was difficult to find the icon that represented the ship.

When he could find it, he said, it was obvious at times that the ship's position was inaccurate.

"The range of the new digital radar to eliminate rain and sea clutter was not good. And it interfered with what were solid targets like other vessels and land," he said.

Disturbing details

Speaking of the night of the sinking, Henthorne said when he got to the bridge Lilgert was there. The captain said he did an admirable job during the evacuation of the ship. Nevertheless, he was worried Lilgert would commit suicide.

“He looked terribly distressed. I was worried about him. I didn't know what he was going to do. I was scared,” he said.

Henthorne also testified the bridge crew situation at the time of the crash was contrary to federal regulations.

At the time of the fatal collision, there were only two people on the bridge. According to the captain, this was acceptable if the ship was on autopilot.

However, Henthorne testified, if the ship was ever taken off autopilot in an emergency, that configuration would then immediately contravene the law.

This is important because it could show Lilgert and his fellow crew memberKaren Briker, who was with him on the bridge, wereput in a position in which they could not help but contravene federal regulations if an emergency arose.

Horrific accounts

Henthorne is the latest witness to take to the stand, in a week that has already seen one ferry worker describe how she feared she would drown after becoming trapped in her cabin as the ship began to sink.

Other witnesses told of the boat shuddering and skidding as it struck land and sea water flooding the engine room; the boat rolling and pitching as it took on water; the lights going out as it slipped beneath the waves, reminding them of the film Titanic.

Ninety-nine passengers and crew made it into life rafts and off the sinking boat, but two passengers were never found. Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, were on the register for the ferry and are presumed to have gone down with the ship.

Fishing boats in the area and residents of nearby Hartley Bay scrambled to mount a rescue effort, and transported the lifeboat passengers back to Hartley Bay.

Henthorne was fired 10 months after the sinking. He now works as a rescue coordinator with the Canadian Coast Guard.

Lilgert has pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death. His trial, before a jury, is expected to last up to six months.

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