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Ferry officer says he never denied responsibility in crashing ship

Karl Lilgert, centre, is seen leaving at the B.C. Supreme Court with family members in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, January, 17, 2013. Lilgert is accused of causing death after two passengers died when the Queen of the North ferry sank.


The officer in charge of navigating the Queen of the North passenger ferry when it struck Gil Island and sank says he has never denied responsibility for steering the ship into the large, rocky island.

"I take that responsibility to this day," Karl Lilgert added, as he testified for a third day at his criminal negligence trial in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.

But the mystery of what went wrong and why, which has hung over proceedings since they began in January, only deepened Wednesday, when Mr. Lilgert physically plotted the course he said he had set for the ship as it headed toward Gil Island.

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Aided by calipers, a ruler and a thick pencil, the accused drew a straight line on a marine chart that took the Queen of the North safely past the island, although somewhat closer to its jagged shores than normal.

Much to Mr. Lilgert's horror, however, instead of cruising by, the vessel slammed into the island and soon disappeared beneath the waves, costing two passengers their lives.

Mr. Lilgert has yet to provide an explanation of what he believes might have caused the collision, consistently stating his belief that the ship was three cables, or about half a kilometre, off shore when the fatal mishap occurred.

He was in such a state, after spying trees out of the corner of his eye, that he did not even feel the impact of the Queen of the North hitting land, he told the court.

"I don't remember much. I [was] in absolute shock," the 59-year-old officer said, though he did recall the ship falling eerily quiet and then, lots of activity.

Mr. Lilgert has talked of two course alterations he ordered, while the ship was still north of Gil Island, heading south from Prince Rupert through the Island Passage.

One, he said, was the required change to avoid the island, which he ordered three minutes later than usual because of concerns over a tow boat and its load of logs in the area.

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The second, a minute and a half later, was a shift to starboard in the direction of Gil Island. Mr. Lilgert said he ordered that to ensure the Queen of the North missed a small fish boat he claimed to have spotted on the ferry's port side. Not too long after that, the ship slammed into the island.

Mr. Lilgert spent considerable time complying with requests from Crown prosecutor Michel Huot to indicate on a marine chart exactly where the course alterations had taken place, where he believed the small fish boat was located, and the course he believed the Queen of the North was following, after each change was made.

At one confusing point during his several tasks, Madam Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein quipped: "You're making me seasick."

Earlier, Mr. Huot asked Mr. Lilgert whether it was possible he wasn't paying attention when he ordered the first course change, an apparent reference to the presence on the bridge of quartermaster Karen Briker. It was the first time Mr. Lilgert and Ms. Briker had worked alone together, since the two ended an intense, extramarital affair.

"I believe I was paying attention," Mr. Lilgert replied.

Mr. Huot suggested another possible problem, when he put it to the accused that he didn't have a chart out the night the ferry sank. "I don't remember," said Mr. Lilgert.

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Asked whether he understood that, when he was in charge on the bridge of the ship, he was responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel, Mr. Lilgert answered, emphatically: "I sure do. Yes."

In February, an expert in electronic marine navigation, relying on information recorded by the ferry's version of a "black box," testified that the Queen of the North missed a course alteration and proceeded on a track that took it straight into Gil Island.

The trial continues on Thursday.

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