Insufficient passage planning, no lookout contributed to grounding of tour vessel off Vancouver Island: TSB

Insufficient passage planning, no lookout contributed to grounding of tour vessel off Vancouver Island: TSB

The Stellar Sea 75 minutes after grounding. Credit: Dmitry Cherov

Federal investigators say insufficient passage planning and inadequate lookout for hazards led to a tourism vessel running aground off Tofino in October 2016.

The Transportation Safety Board report released on Thursday said at around 5:44 p.m. on Oct. 1, the eco-tourism vessel Stellar Sea struck a rock and went aground while on a bear-watching excursion in Warn Bay. There were 26 passengers and two crew members on board. Two passengers fell and sustained minor injuries.

According to the report, Jamie’s Whaling Station then brought out two vessels to rescue the passengers. Nine of the passengers went onto the first vessel.

The report says the remaining 17 passengers were told to abandon ship and move onto a rock to wait for the second vessel as the ebbing tide caused the Stellar Sea to heel progressively to port.

The Canadian Coast Guard was told about the incident four-and-a-half hours after the grounding and not until all passengers were safe. The Stellar Sea was refloated and towed on Oct. 3 for inspection and repairs.

The report says the investigation found there was inadequate passage planning before the grounding. It said the planning did not include strategies to identify and mitigate risks involved in navigating alone in a challenging marine environment.

According to the report, the passage had numerous hazards, such as rocks, reefs and a large tidal range. An example included in the report was the chart plotter and echo sounder system were not used to their full potential. Another example was that the available safety zone alarms were not engaged.

The investigation also found there was an inadequate lookout for the hazards. The report said no crew member was posted as the dedicated lookout. The master was alone in the wheelhouse, the report says, and was performing multiple tasks that interfered with his ability to focus on the course ahead. Therefore, no one saw the protruding rock in time to prevent the accident.

The Stellar Sea's navigation route.

The Stellar Sea’s navigation route. Credit: TSB

Jamie’s Whaling Station also owns the Leviathan II, a whale-watching vessel that capsized after it was hit by a rogue wave in October 2015. Twenty-seven people were thrown in the water and six people were killed.

Alexa HuffmanAlexa Huffman

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