KINGSTON The Transportation Safety Board has issued three safety concerns following a long and tumultuous investigation into a local tourism boat hitting bottom in 2017.
The safety boards report was extensive, Hugh Mackenzie, general manager of the Kingston 1,000 Islands Cruises, said, explaining that the company saw a draft report and was able to provide feedback for the final one.
The report is exhaustive and we were heavily involved with discussions back-and-forth dealing with the Transportation Safety Boards inquiries, and were satisfied with the quality of the report. Were happy there were no recommendations coming out of the report in the context of our operation, but general concern that should be addressed by the industry at large.
On Aug. 8, 2017, at about 12:45 p.m., the Island Queen III, with 290 people on board, set sail for a three-hour cruise around the Thousand Islands. As it passed Fort Henry and Deadman Bay, the ship came across a sailing school and was forced slightly more north along its intended route. As it travelled between the mainland and Whiskey Island, navigating visually only, the ship hit bottom.
A rudder was left useless and the hull of the ship was breached, causing water to rush into a compartment below the main deck. The captain turned the ship back to its port and it arrived there 30 minutes later, with the water onboard having reached 1.4 metres deep.
No one was injured during the incident, but the company called the Transportation Safety Board as required. The board started its investigation the next day.
Everything seemingly went well until the board requested a copy of the ships passenger manifest and a list of crew members on other company vessels. As reported by Postmedia Network in July 2018, Mackenzie refused to hand over the information, claiming in court documents that the TSB was using the incident to perform an intrusive audit of its operations in the Thousand Islands.
The TSB issued a legal summons for Mackenzie to hand over the documents by Nov. 8, 2017, but instead, Mackenzie filed an application to the federal government asking for it to be declared unlawful.
As legal arguments were being prepared by both parties, the board applied for, and was granted, a warrant by a justice of the peace in Ottawa to seize the documents. RCMP seized the documents on March 6, 2018, but then the board was instructed by Ontario Superior Court Justice Graeme Mew to not use them after Mackenzie went to court and asked for the seizure to be declared abuse of process.
It is a particular concern when a government agency acts to undermine a legal process that it would be expected to engage in good faith, the judge said, explaining theyd have to wait until after the Federal Court process.
Four months later, the federal court disagreed with Mackenzie and found the TSBs search, seizure and request of documents were all justified.
As reported by Postmedia, Justice James OReilly wrote in his decision that the documents and information about passengers and staff were important because they were all witnesses of the event, potentially with relevant photos or video.
OReilly said, The investigators identified some safety issues that they brought to the attention of the tour operators, noting that the TSBs mandate allowed it to address broader, systemic safety concerns.
Those three safety concerns were highlighted in a news release sent out on Thursday, though theyre also directed to Transport Canada and the passenger vessel industry as a whole.
The first concern was about the availability of life-jackets for children and infants. For a vessel like the Island Queen III, it is required to carry a life-jacket for every person on board, and a childrens life-jacket for 10 per cent of the maximum complement or one for each child on board, whichever is greater.
On the day the Island Queen III hit bottom, it had 32 children and four infants onboard, but only 31 childrens life-jackets. There are no Transport Canada requirements for infant life-jackets. The TSB wrote that, The master and crew were unaware of the number of children and infants on board, as there was no procedure in place to determine and record these numbers.
Mackenzie explained that childrens life-jackets are for individuals 45 kilograms or lighter and that they do not weigh each of their passengers. On that day, they were above Transportation Canadas requirements for adult life-jackets because they always carry the ships capacity 307 though they rarely have more than 185 guests and crew members on board.
The board wrote that it is concerned that if Transport Canada doesnt provide requirements for infant life-jackets, or documenting how many children are on board, there remains a risk.
It is a conundrum that is not unique to us. These are (Transport Canada) regulations that relate to the full passenger industry, Mackenzie said. According to the pricing of our tickets, we had a number of people who were 12 or under on the vessel that day, but with no regard to what their weight was.
Another safety concern the board highlighted was that there wasnt a procedure in place on the day to evacuate the Island Queen IIIs passengers should there have been an abandon-ship signal. Transport Canada is responsible for overseeing compliance of the procedure but does not have a formal procedure to do so.
Until Transport Canada implements a formal validation and approval process for passenger vessel evacuation procedures, crews and passengers may not be prepared to evacuate safely in an emergency, the board wrote.
The final concern issued by the board is that crew members on vessels such as the Island Queen III are not required to be trained in passenger safety management: Until the crews of these vessels are required to take the appropriate passenger safety management training, there remains a risk that crew members will not be adequately prepared in emergencies.
The TSB said in its release that Kingston 1,000 Islands Cruises has taken steps regarding the concerns.
Since this incident, the operator of theIsland Queen III has undertaken a number of steps to improve safety by addressing some of the identified deficiencies, including changing how the pre-departure safety briefing is given to passengers, and having crew members demonstrate how to put on life-jackets, the release said. The company has also reviewed its safety management system and developed detailed evacuation procedures.
Mackenzie told the Whig-Standard that the investigation was an amazing learning experience.
I have to compliment Transportation Safety Board, Mackenzie said. Their investigation was exhaustive. They came here on a number of occasions, we had three-hour-long phone calls, they gave us the draft of the report eight months ago, I think, and we provided them with a 17-page commentary on their findings and they changed a number of the issues that they found.
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