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

  • Cheers! Birthday boy given $288 fine for dangerous Vancouver SkyTrain ride

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Most people are happy to reach another birthday, but at least one reveller who was out celebrating his 20th didn't seem to mind tempting mortality. Just after midnight on Dec. 9, Transit Police were notified of a man who was riding in between cars on a SkyTrain headed eastbound. Source
  • Toronto FC loses MLS Cup to Sounders in penalty kicks

    Canada News CBC News
    Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei came back to haunt his former team as the Sounders defeated Toronto 5-4 in a penalty shootout to win the MLS Cup and end a long, chilly Saturday night. It was 0-0 after regulation, with Frei keeping Seattle in the game with a marvellous save in extra time. Source
  • Rex Tillerson, top contender for secretary of State, is CEO with close ties to Russia

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- President-elect Donald Trump has found an accomplished American executive in Rex Tillerson, but one whose longstanding support for free trade, international law and an expansive U.S. presence in the Middle East largely doesn't fit with what Trump has pitched to supporters. Source
  • Italian President Sergio Mattarella vows quick fix to country's PM crisis

    World News CBC News
    Italian President Sergio Mattarella pledged on Saturday to act quickly to solve a government crisis prompted by Matteo Renzi's resignation as prime minister, with all major parties calling for elections as soon as possible. Before any vote can take place, however, Italy needs a new electoral law. Source
  • Crowded Nigerian church collapses, killing at least 60

    World News Toronto Sun
    LAGOS, Nigeria — The roof of a crowded church collapsed onto worshippers in southern Nigeria on Saturday, killing at least 60 people, witnesses and an official said. The Reigners Bible Church International in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom state, was still under construction and workers had been rushing to finish it in time for Saturday’s ceremony to ordain founder Akan Weeks as a bishop, congregants said. Source
  • Tanker rams into vehicles on Kenya road, killing more than 30

    World News Toronto Sun
    NAIROBI, Kenya — A tanker carrying chemical gas slammed into other vehicles and burst into flames on a major road in Kenya, killing more than 30 people and injuring 10, officials said Sunday. The vehicle lost control while going downhill on the road from the capital of Nairobi to Naivasha late Saturday, said Mwachi Pius Mwachi, the deputy director and communications officer for the National Disaster Management Unit. Source
  • 2 explosions outside Istanbul soccer stadium; 29 killed, 166 wounded [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    ISTANBUL — Two explosions struck Saturday night outside a major soccer stadium in Istanbul after fans had gone home, an attack that wounded at least 20 police officers, Turkish authorities said. One of the blasts was thought to be a car bomb and the second appeared to have been caused by a suicide bomber. Source
  • Montreal cabbie, 77, struggles to retire as ride-sharing apps devalue taxi permits

    Canada News CTV News
    Canada’s aging cab drivers fear the rise of ride-hailing apps like Uber will render their pricey government-issued operating permits worthless. Many are counting on selling them at a profit to provide a nest egg for retirement. Source
  • Montreal cabbie, 77, struggles to retire as ride-hailing apps devalue taxi permits

    Canada News CTV News
    Canada’s aging cab drivers fear the rise of ride-hailing apps like Uber will render their pricey government-issued operating permits worthless. Many are counting on selling them at a profit to provide a nest egg for retirement. Source
  • Over 30 killed after chemical gas tanker crashes in Kenya

    World News CBC News
    A tanker carrying chemical gas slammed into other vehicles and burst into flames on a major road in Kenya, killing more than 30 people and injuring 10, officials said Sunday. The vehicle lost control while going downhill on the road from the capital of Nairobi to Naivasha late Saturday, said Mwachi Pius Mwachi, the deputy director and communications officer for the National Disaster Management Unit. Source