bc-091123-northern-adventure

The Northern Adventure has had a brief and checkered history in the BC Ferries fleet. ((BC Ferries))

BC Ferries is conducting an internal safety investigation after a ferry was caught in a storm off Prince Rupert early Monday morning.

The MV Northern Adventure was hit by huge waves and hurricane-strength winds as it tried to cross the Hecate Strait on its way to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii.

Unable to sail on, the vessel spent four hours violently rocking in the high seas until the crew managed to turn it around and return to Prince Rupert the next morning.

The incident damaged several cars, injured some crew members and left many passengers seasick and fearing for their lives. The storm also damaged the vessel's starboard bow thruster, a device that helps the ship manoeuvre into dock.

'It's the master's call, based on his experience, whether or not to go out in that weather,' —Transport Canada spokeswoman Jillian Glover

So far, BC Ferries has only said the storm hit earlier and harder than was forecast.

The union representing ferry workers will also take part in the investigation, according to Kevin Hall, the labour relations officer for the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union.

"When we find ourselves in a situation that pose a risk to the passengers or crew ... It's incumbent on the company and union to undergo an investigation ... to look at all the causes," said Hall.

BC Ferries is expecting to complete the investigation within weeks and make recommendations to mitigate the danger in similar situations.

No regulations broken

Concerns have been raised that the vessel, which was brought from the Mediterranean to work the Queen Charlotte Islands route, may not be suitable for the rough seas of Hecate Strait on the northwest coast of B.C., but it is not clear if those issues will be addressed in the investigation.

B.C. New Democrat MLA Gary Coons, who represents the riding of North Coast, said the Northern Adventure has a reputation for instability, even in calm waters, and it has been nicknamed the "vomit comet" by regular passengers.

Transport Canada spokeswoman Jillian Glover said the vessel broke no federal rules.

"The vessel is certified for short international voyages, so there's no specific wind or weather limitations on it. So ultimately … it's the master's call, based on his experience, whether or not to go out in that weather," said Glover.

"The master is expected to do due diligence and check weather forecasts. It is in the Canada Shipping Act that the master should take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of the vessel and all the people on board," she said.

BC Ferries bought the 117-metre vessel from Greece and launched it on the route in March 2007. Less than a month after its introduction, the ferry was pulled from service for a 10-day refit to deal with a host of onboard problems.

The vessel replaced the Queen of the North, which struck an island and sank on March 22, 2006, resulting in the loss of two lives.