The 125-metre-long 'Queen of the North' was travelling south to Port Hardy (north end of Vancouver Island) from Prince Rupert, a trip of about 450 kilometres.
Queen of the North sinks
B.C. ferry rescue effort praised as miraculous
Updated Wed. Mar. 22 2006 2:31 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
The rescue of 101 people from a sinking ferry in the dead of night off B.C.'s northern coast has been described as nothing short of miraculous.
David Hahn, president of BC Ferries, praised the crew for the safe evacuation of the 'Queen of the North', which sank after hitting a rock early Wednesday.
"Anytime you have a major incident and you have no one hurt or killed in this type of thing, I think you always think it's a miracle," Hahn told reporters.
"It's unfortunate to lose the ship, but if that's the cost of having nobody really hurt or killed, then fine, I think we'll live with that," he said.
The 'Queen of the North' went under in Wright Sound, about 135 kilometres from Prince Rupert.
To read eyewitness accounts, click here.
Captain Leah Byrne, of the Search and Rescue Centre in Victoria, said many passengers were asleep when the ferry ran aground at 12:43 a.m. local time (3:43 a.m ET).
"It took about an hour for the ship to sink so most of the people did manage to get onto lifeboats,'' Byrne told CTV Newsnet.
"There was an orderly evacuation of personnel from the vessel, including passengers and crew."
Many of the 42 crew members and 59 passengers were plucked from lifeboats and taken by local fishing vessels to the aboriginal village of Hartley Bay, about 630 kilometres north of Vancouver.
There, they were given blankets and coffee at the community centre.
The tiny coastal community, located about 120 kilometres south of Prince Rupert, is accessible only by air and water.
Other passengers were hauled onto the 'Sir Wilfrid Laurier,' a coast guard icebreaker that helped in the search and rescue mission.
The coast guard vessel scoured the choppy waters for several hours to ensure all passengers had been accounted for because of apparent discrepancies about the number of people on board.
Earlier reports suggested there may have been 102 people on board, instead of 101.
BC Ferries says all rescued passengers will be transported to Prince Rupert later Wednesday.
"It sounds like they (the passengers) are doing very well," Byrne added.
The 125-metre-long 'Queen of the North' was travelling south to Port Hardy from Prince Rupert, a trip of about 450 kilometres.
Seas were reported to be choppy and winds were blowing at about 75 kilometres per hour.
Lt. Cmdr. Hubert Genest told Canada AM that the ferry ran aground while it was navigating the narrow passage of Wright Sound, which is no more than five kilometres in width -- and close to Hartley Bay.
"Most of the passengers were able to proceed slowly and orderly to life rafts and ... the Canadian Forces dispatched a lot of assets to support the rescue operation, including the Canadian Coast Guard vessel 'Sir Wilfrid Laurier'."
Genest said cormorant helicopters from Comox, B.C. assisted in the rescue effort and Byrne said fishing trawlers also responded to the initial call and helped in the rescue.
Clare Hill, of the clinic in Hartley Bay, told AM that "the people of Hartley Bay have really pulled together here."
"Right now we're just making sure that they are warm and have dry clothes," he said.
Meanwhile, Nicole Robinson, a receptionist at the clinic, said she talked to several members of the ferry's crew who were sleeping when the ship began to take on water.
"They heard a loud bang like it grinded a bit and they said the cabin started filling with water," she told reporters.
Some people were hurt, but not seriously, said Robinson. Many were simply "stunned,'' she said.
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is promising a full and thorough investigation into the incident.
He is heading to Prince Rupert along with BC Ferries president David Hahn to meet the rescued passengers today.
Both Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board have been notified of the incident.
Marine investigators from the TSB's Richmond office are expected to arrive at the scene first and will then be joined by specialists from Ottawa.
BC Ferries says family members of passengers and crew aboard the 'Queen of the North' can contact 1-888-223-3779 to enquire about those aboard the ship.
According to the BC Ferries website, the 'Queen of the North' was built in Germany in 1969 and refitted in 2001. It can hold up to 700 people and 115 cars.
The book The Ships of British Columbia says BC Ferries bought the boat for $13.8 million in 1974 and named it the 'Queen of Surrey'.
The ferry was retired in 1976 until it was decided to put her on the Queen Charlotte run in 1980. More than $10 million was spent to prepare her for her days as 'The Queen of the North'.
BC Ferries hit the headlines in July 2005 when a vessel lost power while docking and smashed into a marina in Horseshoe Bay near Vancouver.
No one was injured but 22 pleasure boats were damaged or destroyed. Investigators blamed the incident on a problem with the ship's clutch.
And in September 2000, The 'Spirit of Vancouver Island' hit a power boat outside the Swartz Bay ferry terminal near Victoria. Two people on the power boat were killed.
In March 1992, a BC Ferries vessel slammed into a Japanese coal freighter shortly after leaving the Tsawwassen ferry terminal south of Vancouver. Seventeen ferry passengers were injured.
And in February 1992, a private Royal Vancouver catamaran passenger ferry collided with a BC Ferries vessel in early-morning fog in Active Pass. Some 23 Royal Vancouver passengers were injured