Officer Karl Lilgert admitted having onboard sex in the past with his one-time lover, but denied anything happened the night the Queen of the North ferry struck Gil Island while they were alone on the bridge and he was responsible for navigating the large passenger vessel.
In a dramatic conclusion to four days of testimony at his criminal negligence trial, Mr. Lilgert fended off the Crown’s insinuation that “personal business” with quartermaster Karen Briker distracted him from his duties.
“The attraction was powerful enough that, whether it was sexual activity or an argument or discussion, that’s what occupied your attention that night, instead of navigating the vessel,” prosecutor Michel Huot suggested.
Mr. Lilgert responded, simply: “No.”
Moments before, the 59-year-old veteran mariner acknowledged that he had previously had shipboard sex with Ms. Briker during their relationship, although not while either was on duty.
Rumours have swirled about what might have taken place on the bridge almost from the moment the Queen of the North plowed into Gil Island and sank seven years ago once it was learned that Mr. Lilgert and Ms. Briker had only recently ended an intense extra-marital affair.
The night the ship went down, costing the lives of passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, was the first time Mr. Lilgert and Ms. Briker had worked alone together since their break-up.
Marine experts have testified that the Queen of the North ran into Gil Island because a required change in the ship’s direction was never made as the vessel sailed through the narrow Inland Passage south of Prince Rupert.
In B.C. Supreme Court proceedings on Thursday, Mr. Huot launched a withering attack on Mr. Lilgert’s version of events, suggesting he had fabricated them to cover up the fact he was involved somehow with Ms. Briker rather than navigating the ship.
“In reality, you weren’t doing any navigation at all,” he told the accused. “I suggest you were distracted, and you were distracted because of personal business with Ms. Briker.”
“I disagree,” Mr. Lilgert replied. “I was navigating and paying attention to the best of my ability.”
During his testimony, Mr. Lilgert said he made two alterations to the ship’s prescribed course, but insisted they would still have taken it safely past Gil Island, no closer to shore than half a kilometre. He blamed other boats in the vicinity for the changes, along with strong gusts of wind that he claimed pushed the Queen of the North off track.
But Mr. Huot pointed out that the ferry hit the north-east corner of Gil Island at exactly the point it would have run aground if Mr. Lilgert had not made those corrections.
“How do you explain that, with all your manoeuvrings, you hit the same point you would have hit if you’d made no alterations?” the prosecutor asked Mr. Lilgert.
“I can’t explain that. I’m sorry,” Mr. Lilgert told the court.
When Mr. Huot pressed for an explanation of why the Queen of the North hit Gil Island when Mr. Lilgert said he had set a course to bypass it, the navigator replied: “I’ve been searching for an explanation for seven years as to why. Today, I still don’t know.”
Mr. Huot estimated it would have taken eight and a half minutes for the ferry to travel from the location where Mr. Lilgert said he made his second course change to Gil Island. He asked Mr. Lilgert what he was doing during that time.
“I was just navigating the ship, observing the radar, thinking about the wind, thinking about the vessel,” he said. “All these things take time. There was lots going on.”
Earlier, when asked about Ms. Briker’s presence on the bridge and whether they talked about their relationship, Mr. Lilgert said he doesn’t recall any specific discussion with her, beyond saying something like “good evening, how’s it going,” despite the fact they had not been on duty with each other since their affair ended six weeks earlier. “It was just small talk. I don’t remember having a conversation about anything out of the ordinary.”
The trial continues.