British Columbia

Cruise ship disaster unlikely in B.C.

Officials in the Canadian cruise ship industry are confident a disaster similar to that on Italy's Tuscan coast would not happen in B.C.

Large vessels near shore must take on pilots

Rocks protrude from the damaged side of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

Officials in the Canadian cruise ship industry are confident a disaster similar to that on Italy’s Tuscan coast would not happen in B.C.

The Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground Friday night, sending its 4,200 passengers and crew scrambling for lifeboats. Six people are confirmed dead and at 16 people are missing.

Authorities are investigating the ship's Italian captain, who is being held for suspected manslaughter, for abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck.

The deadly accident has some wondering if such a disaster could happen in B.C., where Port Metro Vancouver, for example, is a major destination for cruise ships.

The Pacific Pilotage Authority, which oversees the coastal waters of B.C., requires that all large vessels within three kilometres of shoreline take on a pilot to help manoeuvre the vessel through the area’s extensive inside waterways and intricate passages.

That rule means cruise ships require two pilots with one on the bridge at all times.

"They work with the master. They work with the senior bridge team and they check the navigation position of that vessel and they actually give the instructions to manoeuvre the ship around our waters," explained Kevin Obermeyer, the authority’s president and CEO.

Up to 230 cruises visit Vancouver port

Not all jurisdictions around the world require pilots.

"I can't say cruise ships are unsafe. I think, like any type of transportation, it has a degree of risk and that people need to go on cruise ships recognizing that they have the same degree of risk as they do on an airplane, on a bus or on a train," said Ross Klein, author of Cruise Ship Blues, from Ottawa.

Up to 230 cruise ships stop in Vancouver every year, bringing an average of one million passengers. The season starts in early May and sails through to the end of September.

"It's incredibly important to us to do everything we can to protect our passengers and our crew and the billions of dollars of assets invested in ships in this business to keep them safe," said Greg Wirtz, president of the North West & Canada Cruise Association.