Canada
BC ferry operator wasn't at wheel when ship crashed, sank: Crown

File photo of the BC Ferry "Queen of Nanaimo."

Credits: AgenceQMI

MICHAEL MUI | QMI AGENCY

VANCOUVER - There was plenty of time to turn before a BC ferry crashed into an island and sank seven years ago and killed two people, a Crown prosecutor said Thursday on the opening day of the trial for the operator allegedly responsible.

Karl Lilgert, a fourth officer tasked with piloting the ship on March 22, 2006, is charged with two counts of criminal negligence causing death.

Passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rossette disappeared after the Queen of the North sank in northern BC.

Ninety-nine passengers and crew managed to escape.

Prosecutor Robert Wright told the B.C. Supreme Court jury the ferry was on the second day of its 500-km journey from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy when it failed to make a scheduled turn, maintained the wrong course for 22 minutes, and crashed into an island.

"There had been no communication from the bridge to the engine room, to the master or the captain of the ship or any other crew members," Wright said.

He said the jury would hear evidence Lilgert had plenty of working navigation instruments and was alone on the bridge with former girlfriend Karen Bricker that night. The two were in a love affair and had talked about having children together, he said, but they had split three weeks prior and hadn't worked together since.

Bricker is expected to testify that everything appeared normal until Lilgert suddenly ordered her to shift course - that's when she saw the trees, Wright said.

He told the jury second officer Kevin Hilton arrived on bridge moments after impact.

"He will tell you, when he entered the bridge room, there was no one at the wheel. You could see that the throttles were moved forward and that they had not been pulled back to slow the vessel down," Wright told the jury.

Defence lawyer Glen Orris said Lilgert is a professional who wanted to do a good job. He said there "probably was human error," but that wasn't the reason the ferry crashed.

"It's merely a symptom," Orris said.

"I anticipate the evidence will show the navigational aids were there, but there were problems with them."

Specifically, he said, poor weather conditions and bright navigational monitors in the dimly lit bridge deck were to blame. He also ruled out Bricker's former relationship with Lilgert as a factor.

The trial is expected to last up to six months.

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