Leviathan II boat sinking bears similarities to earlier whale-watching tragedies

VICTORIA -- The waves rose out of nowhere, tipped the boats straight up and hurled people into the churning seas.

See Full Article

There was no time for maydays.

The survivor accounts and official reports from two deadly British Columbia whale-watching tragedies 17 years apart bear eerie similarities.

Michael Harris, Pacific Whale Watch Association spokesman, said the location of last October's tragedy aboard the Leviathan II that claimed six lives and its parallels to a 1998 whale-watching voyage where two people died are bound to raise concerns for investigators.

"Some kind of sea conditions contributed," he said. "Boats like that don't just sink. You do have a congruence of location. They are going to look at that."

The latest tragedy off the west coast of Vancouver Island has the industry bracing for a flood of safety measures imposed by government, and looking inward at the experiences operators offer to tourists, said Harris.

Both incidents occurred at Plover Reefs, just west of Tofino, a remote Vancouver Island community known for endless beaches, storm watching and surfing waves.

Jamie's Whaling Station, one of many whale-watching companies in the community, was involved in both accidents with its vessels: the 20-metre Leviathan II and the six-metre Ocean Thunder.

Reports into occurrences point to huge waves ambushing the vessels.

In the latest incident, 27 people were dumped into the water. Five Britons died in the sinking: David Thomas, 50, and his 18 year-old son Stephen; Jack Slater, 76, a British national living in Toronto; Katie Taylor, a 29-year-old Briton living in Whistler, B.C., and 63-year-old Nigel Hooker of Southampton, England.

Surfers discovered the body of Australian tourist Raveshan Morgan Pillay, 27, on Vargas Island, not far from Tofino weeks after the boat capsized.

The loss of the six souls on the Leviathan II sent shock waves across the global whale-watching industry, which boasts a stellar safety record, Harris said.

"This tragedy in many, many ways has sent ripples across the whale-watch industry, globally, especially North America," said Harris in a telephone interview from Seattle.

"We're all watching this," he said. "Whenever something happens and you are so shocked that your heart just sinks you don't get over that soon.

"We don't want it to ever happen again anywhere on the planet. We really need to take care of our passengers."

His association represents 36 west-coast whale-watch operators along the Pacific Coast near Victoria and Seattle. It does not represent operators off Tofino.

His members' vessels carried about 400,000 people in 2015, made almost 14,000 voyages and earned about US$145 million. There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries, but association vessels have been involved in six rescues in the last three years of divers and others in distress.

Harris said the industry is anticipating that the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada will examine the structure of whale-watching vessels and their operations off B.C.'s coast.

The Leviathan II is a converted forest-industry vessel and Ocean Thunder is a rigid-hull inflatable.

Harris said he expects the probes to examine policy surrounding the use of life-jackets. Leviathan II passengers were not required to wear life-jackets, but Ocean Thunder passengers wore full life-protection suits.

Prior to the October tragedy, the TSB reported two fatal whale-watching incidents in Canada involving four deaths. It reported the 1998 Ocean Thunder incident, and in 1992, a small, open charter boat with four people on board capsized near Port Alberni, B.C., killing two.

In the Leviathan II incident, safety board investigators have said passengers were standing on one side of the top deck when a wave hit the opposite side of the vessel.

"This would have raised the centre of gravity, affecting the vessel's stability," said investigator Marc-Andre Poisson in Tofino just days after the boat flipped. "We also know that the sea conditions were such that the wave approached the vessel from the starboard quarter. We know the vessel broached and then capsized."

Survivor Dwayne Mazereeuw of Calgary said last month that he noticed a large wave approaching from his right, but didn't think it was dangerous until people were tossed into the water.

"From what I know, and what I saw, I would say it was a large wave that broadsided us, broadsided the boat and knocked it right over," he said.

Images of the inverted bow of the Leviathan II bobbing in the ocean were transmitted worldwide.

The TSB's report into the Ocean Thunder incident described water conditions similar to those mentioned in the Leviathan's preliminary-investigation report and a survivor's account.

"The waters were turbulent and the sea and swell were confused," stated the 25-page report. "As the boat made its way through the turbulent waters near the reefs and the operator negotiated a channel between the rocks, a wave from the stern swamped the boat."

A second large wave struck the Ocean Thunder from the port side and raised the port side to a near vertical angle, stated the report.

"The suddenness of the roll to a large angle and the breaking wave caused the passengers and the operator to be thrown over the starboard side and into the sea. No mayday message was transmitted."

Ahousaht First Nation Coun. Tom Campbell, said the area around Plover Reefs has plentiful marine wildlife and is frequented by whale watchers, but the waters are not predictable. Campbell said he finds himself counting waves near the reefs because the fourth wave is often furious.

Campbell's relatives at the nearby First Nation's village of Ahousaht were instrumental is rescuing the people on board the Leviathan II.

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne said her community is struggling to make sense with what happened on the water.

"It really is a grieving process for many people," she said. "We're all waiting for the results of the TSB to see what recommendations they might be making."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Watch: Jewelry shop owner fights off would-be thieves armed with sledgehammers

    World News CTV News
    With the name Heist, a Californian jewelry store may seem like an obvious target for a burglary, but the shop’s owner foiled a group of would-be thieves’ plan when he fought back. On Thursday afternoon, a man in a hooded sweatshirt storms into the Heist Jewelry store in Santa Monica and smashed one of the display cases with a sledgehammer. Source
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit animator Richard Williams dead at 86

    World News CBC News
    Richard Williams, a Canadian-British animator whose work on the bouncing cartoon bunny in Who Framed Roger Rabbit helped blur the boundaries between the animated world and our own, has died. He was 86 years old. The Oscar-winning artist died from cancer at his home in Bristol, England, on Friday, his daughter Natasha Sutton Williams said Saturday. Source
  • Baby dugong that captured hearts dies in Thailand

    World News CBC News
    An eight-month-old dugong nurtured by marine experts after it was found lost near a beach in southern Thailand has died of what biologists believe was a combination of shock and ingesting plastic waste, officials said Saturday. Source
  • Iranian tanker to leave Gibraltar soon despite U.S. pressure

    World News CTV News
    GIBRALTAR -- The shipping agent for an Iranian supertanker caught in a diplomatic standoff says the vessel is ready to depart Gibraltar on Sunday or Monday, as the U.S. made a last-minute effort to seize it again. Source
  • Canadians killed in Afghanistan honoured at re-dedication ceremony of cenotaph

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA - More than 150 Canadians killed during the war in Afghanistan are being remembered in a special ceremony in Ottawa this morning. The ceremony, which is being attended by hundreds of family members of those who died, involves the re-dedication of a cenotaph built during the war in honour of the fallen. Source
  • Debris cleared, emergency crews leave site of explosion in London, Ont.

    Canada News CTV News
    LONDON, Ont. - Emergency crews have left the scene of an explosion in London, Ont., this morning and more residents are allowed to return home. A statement from the city says debris has been cleared on the streets and sidewalks after Wednesday night's blast, which was caused by a vehicle slamming into a home and hitting a gas line. Source
  • Airstrikes in Syrian rebel stronghold kills family of 7

    World News CTV News
    BEIRUT -- Syrian government and Russian airstrikes pounded the southern edge of a rebel stronghold in the country's northwest on Saturday, killing at least seven members of one family, activists and a war monitor reported. Source
  • New York City subway scare suspect taken into police custody

    World News CTV News
    New York City police say they've apprehended a man suspected of placing two devices that looked like pressure cookers in a subway station. Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea tweeted Saturday morning that a man seen holding one of the rice cookers in surveillance video was taken into custody. Source
  • How soccer is helping young immigrants feel at home in Canada

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Omran Alahmad has played soccer every week since his arrival in Ottawa almost four years ago, much the way he did as a boy growing up in Syria. Alahmad, 18, travelled through Jordan to come to Canada in 2015 with his parents and five siblings, but he was determined that it wouldn't mean giving up on the sport he's played since he was just three years old. Source
  • Kim expresses 'great satisfaction' over North Korea weapons tests

    World News CTV News
    SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of -- North Korea said Saturday that leader Kim Jong Un supervised another test-firing of an unspecified new weapon, seen as an attempt to pressure Washington and Seoul over slow nuclear negotiations and their joint military exercises. Source