01/23/2013 04:24 EST | Updated 03/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Officers like accused had responsibility to make sure they knew the ship: trial

VANCOUVER - The officers aboard a ferry that sank off the coast of northern British Columbia seven years ago were expected to ensure they were familiar with the ship and its equipment, especially when that equipment changed, a crew member's criminal negligence trial heard Wednesday.

Karl Lilgert is on trial for criminal negligence causing the deaths of two passengers when the Queen of the North struck an island and sank on March 22, 2006.

His lawyers have suggested Lilgert, who was filling in as fourth officer during that fatal voyage, was saddled with unreliable equipment and poor training about recent upgrades to the ship's autopilot and steering systems. The autopilot upgrades required changes to procedures on the bridge.

Don Frandsen, who wasn't aboard the Queen of the North the night it sank but was the ship's senior captain, conceded it was ultimately the responsibility of either the on-duty captain or the first officer to train the crew on new equipment and procedures.

But he said he expected the officers to be proactive when it came to ensuring they were comfortable with the ship's equipment and to ask for help if they needed it.

The ship's crew is divided into two groups, each working for two weeks at a time. Lilgert's crew took over the ship in Prince Rupert on March 15, 2006, but didn't sail until the following day.

"What would you expect the officers to be doing during that time when on ship but not underway?" asked Crown counsel Caroline Richardson.

"They would get the ship ready for the upcoming sailings by getting paperwork done, familiarizing themselves with any new bulletins or specific things that need to be done for preparing to sail the next day," Frandsen replied.

"And what about familiarizing themselves with any new equipment?" asked Richardson.

"Absolutely," said Frandsen.

The recent upgrades included a new radar system and a new switch to turn on the autopilot system.

The trial has heard that the radar system was nearly identical to another unit already on the ship and didn't require new training.

The new autopilot switch, on the other hand, required a completely new procedure to activate and deactivate the autopilot system. Frandsen and his crew developed a new procedure before arriving in Prince Rupert.

Frandsen said he explained those changes to the incoming captain and posted a detailed memo on the wall of the bridge.

"And what if an incoming officer was still uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the equipment? What would be the expectation?" asked Richardson.

"I would expect that they would either go to a more senior officer and make the concern known or go to the captain and make it known that there was something they were uncomfortable with," replied Frandsen.

The trial has not heard what specific training Lilgert received on the new autopilot system or the new procedures. The trial also has yet to hear what role, if any, the autopilot system played in the collision.

Under cross-examination from Lilgert's lawyer, Frandsen acknowledged the ship's captain and first officer had ultimate responsibility to ensure the crew was property trained, though there wasn't a formal procedure for training crew on new equipment.

"The captain was responsible to make sure it was done," said Frandsen.

"But it was up to each individual captain as to how he would do that?" asked defence lawyer Glen Orris.

"Correct," replied Frandsen.

Lilgert was on the bridge with quartermaster Karen Bricker, his former lover, at the time of the sinking. It was their first shift along together since their affair ended a couple of weeks earlier, the trial has heard.

Lilgert's job was to oversee the ship's navigation, while Bricker was tasked with actually steering the vessel.

The trial has heard the ship missed a key course change just past midnight and sailed for more than 20 minutes on a collision course with Gil Island without making any turns or evasive manoeuvres.

A nighttime rescue saved 99 passengers and crew, but passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette were never seen again and are presumed drowned.

Lilgert pleaded not guilty. His trial, before a jury, is expected to last six months.