March 22, 2006

Canada ferry sinks, all 101 aboard safe: officials

By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A ferry carrying
101 passengers and crew ran aground and sank in the middle of
the night off Canada's Pacific coast, but all aboard are
believed safe, officials said.

The Queen of the North was believed to have struck a rock
at about 12:43 a.m. Pacific Time near Gil Island, about 75
miles south of Prince Rupert as it sailed along B.C.'s Inside
Passage off the north coast of the province.

All 59 passengers and 42 crew members got into life boats
and escaped the sinking ship, said BC Ferries Corp., a
provincially-owned company. No serious injuries were reported.

"We were very fortunate in this case. Fate was smiling upon
everybody today," Canadian Forces Major Chuck Grenkow told
Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

The passengers were taken to the isolated aboriginal
village of Hartley Bay, which had also sent boats to help with
the rescue.

Initial reports said 102 people were aboard the ship,
capable of holding up to 700 people and 115 cars, which was on
a routine journey from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy.

The ferry sank along a popular route for cruise ships that
travel the coast from Vancouver and Seattle to Alaska each

A Canadian Coast Guard boat, the Sir Wilfred Laurier, was
on patrol in the area and responded to the ferry's distress
call, reaching the scene at about 2:15 a.m., officials said.

B.C. Ferries president David Hahn said the cause of the
accident is being investigated, but it was believed that the
ferry hit a rock.

"It is impossible for me to conjecture why it ended up
where it did," Hahn told reporters outside the ferry service's
headquarters in Victoria.

Investigators from the Transportation Safety Board of
Canada are heading to the scene.

Premier Gordon Campbell defended the province's ferry
fleet, although he acknowledged that the Queen of the North was
one of the older vessels being eyed for replacement because it
only had a single compartment hull.

"The fleet is safe. Not only is the fleet safe, but it is
manned by professional crews that are trained in safety,"
Campbell said in a radio station interview.

The ship was built in 1969 and received a major rebuilding
in 2001.

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren)