British Columbia

Hundreds stranded after B.C. ferry drops anchor

A BC Ferries vessel carrying hundreds of passengers to Vancouver makes an unexpected stop when its anchor suddenly drops just after the vessel passes through the narrow channel of Active Pass.

A BC Ferries vessel carrying hundreds of passengers to Vancouver made an unexpected stop Tuesday when its anchor suddenly dropped into the water just after the vessel passed through the narrow channel of Active Pass.

Passenger Brenda McCorquodale told CBC News the Spirit of British Columbia left Swartz Bay north of Victoria at 7 a.m. PT and had just passed through Active Pass when it came to a halt just before 8 a.m.

"The boat started shuddering and immediately did a very large doughnut," McCorquodale. said. "After about 10 minutes, the captain came on and then told us that the anchor had spontaneously dropped from the boat."

The vessel then spent nearly an hour at anchor in the rough seas while the crew dealt with the situation before continuing on toward the Tsawwassen ferry terminal south of Vancouver shortly before 10 a.m.

Sailings delayed

BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said there were no reports of injuries or damage, but another vessel may be put in service in place of the Spirit of B.C. while the corporation investigates the incident.

"I know our engineers and our operations crew will be investigating why the anchor deployed," Marshall said. "The crew did not deploy the anchor — it had inadvertently deployed — so we're certainly going to track that down and figure out why that happened."

After arriving in Tsawwassen, the Spirit of British Columbia was scheduled to make a 9 a.m. return trip to Swartz Bay, but the BC Ferries website showed the vessel departed shortly after 10 a.m., more than an hour late.

The vessel was also scheduled to make trips to Swartz Bay at 1 p.m., 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., and return trips to Tsawwassen at 11 p.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. and at least some of those trips are likely to be delayed.

The vessel's sister ship, the Spirit of Vancouver Island, was pulled from service on the route on Oct. 9 after a fire broke out on board. It remains out of service for a refit.

Active Pass traffic high risk

Passengers on the vessel appeared to take the incident in stride, with many heading to the cafeteria for an extra round of morning coffee while the vessel was delayed, those contacted on board told CBC News.

But it appears fortunate that at the time of the incident, the ferry had already left Active Pass, a narrow channel of water dividing Mayne and Galiano islands off Vancouver Island's east coast.

The narrow channel of Active Pass has rocky cliffs, underwater reefs and some of the strongest currents on the south coast and was identified in a 2007 safety audit of BC Ferries as one of the highest-risk areas of operation for the fleet.

Typically two, or sometimes three, BC Ferries vessels pass each other in the narrow pass heading in opposite directions.

"The route through Active Pass [where typically two Spirit-class vessels are transiting at the same time] is particularly strategic," former auditor general of British Columbia George Morfitt wrote in the 2007 report. "We recommend that BC Ferries, as part of a formalized risk management process, undertake an assessment of the degree of risk associated with the current practice of BC Ferries' vessels passing simultaneously in Active Pass."

In September 2008, the Spirit of B.C. was restricted from travelling through the narrow channel during periods of strong tidal currents while it was awaiting repairs on one of its four engines. At 167 metres in length, the 16-year-old Spirit of B.C. is one of the largest ships in the BC Ferries fleet.

BC Ferries has had two serious accidents in Active Pass in the past.

On Aug. 2, 1970, the Soviet freighter Sergey Yesenin collided with the Queen of Victoria in Active Pass, slicing through the middle of the ferry, killing three people. Damage was estimated at more than $1 million, and the incident led to changes in marine regulations surrounding the passage of vessels through the area.

Then in August 1979, the Queen of Alberni ran aground in Active Pass. There were no injuries, but there was extensive damage to trucks and automobiles on board.