British Columbia

Jamie's Whaling Station involved in 1998 fatal whale-watching excursion

The whale-watching company at the centre of the fatal excursion near Tofino, B.C., on the weekend had a previous outing that ended in the loss of two lives.

Operator of Ocean Thunder died along with 1 passenger in previous incident

A picture of the Ocean Thunder from 1998 when the vessel was suddenly swamped near Tofino, throwing its four passengers into the ocean. Two people died. (Transportation Safety Board)

The whale-watching company involved in the fatal excursion near Tofino, B.C., on the weekend had a previous outing that ended in the loss of two lives.

In 1998, the Jamie's Whaling Station vessel Ocean Thunder was swamped and rolled suddenly to a large angle, throwing all four occupants into the water, according to a Transportation Safety Board investigation into the incident.

Same area

It happened in March of that year near Plover Reefs, which is west of Vargas Island, the same general area as the latest incident involving the company.

On Sunday, Jamie's Whaling Station's MV Leviathan II sunk while on a whale-watching excursion. Five people died, 21 were rescued and one person remains lost.

​The TSB said the 1998 incident happened so fast that the operator of the vessel was unable to transmit a mayday signal.

When the boat did not arrive at its destination, the owner of the company called for a search and rescue operation.

Turbulent waters

Two of the passengers were rescued after two hours, while another passenger and the operator became fatally hypothermic and drowned.

All of the passengers were wearing coverall PFD suits.

The TSB said in its report that the operator, "did not fully appreciate the conditions the boat would meet at the time of the accident in the turbulent waters in the vicinity of the reefs," but might have had economic pressures or a desire for customer satisfaction in making the decision to go to Plover Reefs.

It also said that a lack of "effective" communication equipment caused a delay in the occupants of the vessel being rescued and that not having a boarding ladder, even though they were not required by regulations, was a detriment to passenger and crew safety.

The TSB made 19 findings following its investigation and afterwards began a process of developing new national standards for all whale-watching vessels.

Driver fell asleep

One of the company's boats was also involved in another incident in 1996 when the driver apparently fell asleep while enroute to pick up passengers at a hot springs. The boat crashed into some rocks on Flores Island. The driver was seriously injured and the boat was badly damaged, but there were no passengers on board.

"A long, warm, work day, with calm weather and boredom, contributed to the accident," concluded the TSB report at the time.

This map was part of the TSB investigation into a 1998 fatal whale-watching trip conducted by Jamie's Whaling Station. (TSB)

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