Poor route planning and the absence of a dedicated lookout contributed to tourist vessel Stellar Sea running aground during a bear-watching excursion off Vancouver Island in October 2016, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has found. Twenty-six passengers and two crew members had to be rescued after the vessel hit a rock during a trip organized by Jamie’s Whaling Station out of Tofino, British Columbia. Two passengers fell and suffered minor injuries when the vessel halted abruptly. Nine of the passengers were picked up soon after the 12-metre vessel grounded in Warn Bay, but a falling tide caused the ship to tilt and forced the remaining 17 passengers to wait on a nearby rock until they were rescued.
“Although the reduced manning level of two was allowed by Transport Canada, the investigation found that two crew members were insufficient to maintain an adequate lookout for navigational hazards and ensure that the master was able to focus on navigating and avoiding hazards during the voyage,” the report says. “No one saw the rock in time to prevent the vessel from running aground.”
The TSB report released last week said that the ship’s captain did not use the chart plotter and echo sounder system to their full potential while navigating what the report described as “a challenging marine environment filled with numerous hazards, including rocks, reefs and a large tidal range”.
The report also says Jamie’s Whaling Station did not notify the coast guard for more than four hours after the grounding and not until all the passengers were safe. Neither the master nor the company issued any kind of distress signal, as required by both federal regulation and company policy.
The report noted that Jamie’s Whaling Station updated its emergency procedures last March to emphasize the requirement to contact the coast guard in an emergency, and increased the frequency of its safety drills.
Stellar Sea was refloated two days after it ran aground and was towed to nearby Ucluelet for inspection and repairs.