Time and again, crew members responsible for ensuring that all passengers were rescued from the sinking Queen of the North counted up the numbers.
They did it before the lifeboats were launched, they tried several more times while passengers and crew bobbed about on the dark ocean, and they counted again after passengers and crew were either taken ashore at nearby Hartley Bay or boarded a Canadian Coast Guard vessel in the vicinity.
Finally, the ship’s chief steward, standing outside in Hartley Bay, conceded that “the numbers aren’t jiving,” a B.C. Supreme Court trial heard on Tuesday.
The testimony from Trevor Caldwell, a BC Ferries officer but a passenger on board the doomed Queen of the North at the time, focused attention on the mysterious fate of passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, presumed to have drowned when the ship went down in March, 2006.
Why the couple did not join the other 57 passengers in the lifeboats and what exactly happened to them have never been determined.
Karl Lilgert, the officer in charge of navigation when the passenger vessel hit Gil Island and sank during its night-time run from Prince Rupert, is
being tried on two counts of criminal negligence causing death.
Second steward Eric Lundgren testified that it was his responsibility to clear the cabins on Deck 6 during an emergency. When he got there, after the collision, another steward said she had already cleared all cabins but two. “We did the last two rooms and she said, ‘That’s it,’ ” Mr. Lundgren told the court.
But there was no chalk on board to mark cleared cabins with an ‘X’, as stipulated by emergency protocol, he said, explaining that the Queen of the North was just back in service after a refit, and no one had supplied chalk. “So there were no markings on the doors.”
Mr. Lundgren said he also ensured there was no one in the lounge on Deck 6 and did a “run-through” on Deck 7. “I couldn’t believe anyone could have slept through all this,” he added, referring to the noise of the ship hitting the island, alarm bells and announcements for passengers to report to lifeboat stations.
However, passenger Clive Seabrook testified that the alarm bells were not that audible to passengers in their cabins. “The ringing I heard was muffled. You could only faintly hear it in the room.”
Meanwhile, as crew members were trying to count the passengers before the lifeboats were lowered, Mr. Lundgren dashed down to the purser’s office for a quick look at the log book to confirm that 59 passengers were on board when the ship left Prince Rupert.
Once they were on the sea, with lifeboats and life rafts hovering together, the captain tried to get a count from each one and add them up, Mr. Lundgren said. “They were having trouble getting a passenger count. It went on for [some time].”
Earlier, quartermaster Karen Briker, who had been steering the ship on auto-pilot under the direction of Mr. Lilgert, her ex-lover, testified that she was not trained to switch auto-pilot on or off. It was not a requirement of her job. The officer navigating the ship, in this case Mr. Lilgert, did it, she said.
But Mr. Lilgert ordered her to turn it off and switch to manual steering, just as she noticed treetops from Gil Island illuminated by the ship’s lights, Ms. Briker said.
According to the transcript of a lengthy interview Ms. Briker had with the RCMP, referred to by defence lawyer Glen Orris, she asked Mr. Lilgert: “Where is the switch?” Mr. Lilgert then replied: “There, Karen. It’s there.”
Ms. Briker agreed with Mr. Orris that Mr. Lilgert hit the off switch himself, and returned the vessel to manual steering.
During her day and a half in the witness box, Ms. Briker described several times how distraught she was after the collision, stemming from her belief that not knowing how to turn off the auto-pilot might have caused the accident.