BC Ferries believes a piece of rope caught in the Queen of Nanaimo's propellers caused the ship to crash into the dock at Mayne Island early Tuesday, injuring five people, one of them seriously.
Divers found the rope after examining the twin-engine, 130-metre vessel, according to Mike Corrigan, the BC Ferries chief operating officer.
"There's a substantial amount of rope found on the propellers, more on the port side, where the captain didn't have the ability to use the propulsion system to slow the ship down," Corrigan told CBC News. "That's why [the ship] came into the dock pretty hard."
An elderly woman among the injured suffered head injuries when she was knocked off her feet by the impact. She was transported by air ambulance to Vancouver.
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Another person was treated in a medical clinic on the island, about 40 kilometres southwest of Vancouver in the Strait of Georgia. The three other injured passengers were treated by paramedics at the scene.
Passengers were warned over the public address system seconds before the crash to expect a "hard landing."
"I saw [the ferry] come in really fast," said regular ferry traveller Jan Peace, who was on the dock at Village Bay terminal waiting to get aboard the ship. "I was very concerned. It's never come in so fast."
The captain dropped the anchor as an emergency measure at the last moment to try to stop the vessel, which is usually slowed down only by reverse thrust from the propellers.
"I heard a lot of chain noise to start with and everyone was getting excited he put the anchor down," said Jon Collier, who also watched the ship come in. "As we went to look, he hit the dock and it was just amazing."
Corrigan did not say if authorities know where the rope found on the propellers came from or how it got into the water.
The federal Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
Ferry traffic to Mayne Island and the other southern islands between Victoria and Vancouver has been complicated by the accident, which has taken the Queen of Nanaimo out of service at the height of the summer tourist season.
The ferry can carry 1,163 passengers and 192 cars.
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Travellers going to the islands from the mainland now have to go to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island and board a connecting ferry from there.
Several B.C. Ferries vessels have experienced hard landings in recent years, with the most serious occurring in June 2005, when the Queen of Oak Bay lost power while docking at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.
No one was hurt but the big vessel slammed into a nearby dock, damaging numerous smaller boats.