British Columbia

Tofino whale-watching boat capsize sparks calls for more regulation

As the whale-watching boat that capsized near Tofino, B.C., was towed out of the watery depths for close inspection by Transportation Safety Board investigators, marine experts are calling for more rigorous safety inspections.

Another marine expert says there should be more inspections of passenger vessels

MV Leviathan II accident leads experts to call for better regulation and more inspections of passenger vessels 2:29

As the whale-watching boat that capsized near Tofino, B.C., was towed out of the watery depths on Thursday for close inspection by Transportation Safety Board investigators, another marine expert was calling for more rigorous safety inspections. 

"We have to go back, step one, and look at what kind of stability requirements are needed for cruise vessels, touring vessels, to ensure this doesn't happen again," said UBC professor of marine engineering Jon Mikkelson.

Naval architects like Mikkelson are asking if the design of the MV Leviathan ll was the right one for the ocean conditions off Tofino, or if modifications to its structure contributed to Sunday's tragic accident.

The Transportation Safety Board said most of the passengers were crowded on one side of the outside deck, which may have destabilized the vessel when it was hit by a wave from the opposite side, killing six people. 

Previous modifications

Records show the MV Leviathan II was originally built in 1981 as a tug boat. It was modified in 1996 — lengthened and refitted with an upper passenger deck — when it was sold to Jamie's Whaling Station, the company operating it when it crashed last Sunday.

But Mikkelson says the vessel was more likely a crew boat for forestry workers originally, which wouldn't have made it a good candidate for conversion to a tour boat. 

UBC professor of marine engineering Jon Mikkelson says more regulations of marine vessels are needed. (CBC)

"It's designed to be a rugged vessel on the coast, but in many ways it's not designed to have people standing up on an observation deck," said Mikkelson. 

Transport Canada confirmed the boat had been modified, and said the owner prepared two different types of stability assessments at that time.

Mikkelson says federal regulations and inspections may need to change to ensure redesigned vessels are safe. 

"An annual inspection would be excessive, but a periodic stability assessment, especially for passenger-carrying vessels like this one, would be something that should be considered," said Mikkelson.

On Wednesday, nautical training instructor Capt. Ivan Oxford said modifications to the MV Leviathan II raised concerns about its stability.

With files from Eric Rankin

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