Nfld. & Labrador

Bay Bulls whale-watching company says industry safe, in wake of B.C. tragedy

The co-owner of a boat tour based out of Bay Bulls says his industry is governed by strict rules and regulations.
Passengers on a tour with Gatherall's Puffin and Whale Watch get up close to a whale. (Gatherall's Puffin and Whale Watch/Facebook)

The co-owner of a boat tour based out of Bay Bulls says despite Sunday's tragic accident off B.C., his industry is a safe one, governed by strict rules and regulations.

Michael Gatherall, co-owner of Gatherall's Puffin and Whale Watch, said he was horrified to hear of the capsizing of a whale-watching vessel off Tofino that killed five people, with another passenger still missing.

"Anytime that something like that affects another member in the industry, it certainly draws your attention. And your thoughts obviously go to the people, and what could've happened, and how it could've been prevented," Gatherall told The St. John's Morning Show.

Gatherall said such tragedies are rare, with his industry tightly controlled by Transport Canada.

This photograph of the MV Leviathan II was shot by Albert Titian as Ahousaht First Nation boats scrambled to help its passengers. (Albert Titian/Facebook)

"The rules are fairly onerous. Canada in general has a very good safety record, a very good track record when it comes to marine fatalities," said Gatherall.

"You don't hear of incidents like this very often."

A good reputation

Gatherall took a tour with Jamie's Whaling Station, the operator of the capsized vessel, on a trip to B.C. years ago, and said the long-standing company has a good reputation.

"Most of the companies that are around for that long, get to stay around for that long because they do a good job and they do good work," said Gatherall.

Jamie's Whaling Station was involved in another fatal excursion in 1998.

In Sunday's incident, none of the passengers were wearing life-jackets at the time of the capsizing.

Gatherall said that meets with Transport Canada regulations for larger vessels, with life-jacket or immersion suits only required on smaller craft.

Extra safety steps

Gatherall does say there are many extra steps operators can take to ensure passenger safety.

Gatherall says passengers can forget about safety once they spot a whale. (Gatherall's Puffin and Whale Watch/Facebook)

"Our most recent vessel — it was a conscious decision, we didn't put any seating adjacent to the railing," said Gatherall.
 
"The reason for this was an overriding concern for passenger safety. People do get exuberated, they get excited, they want to jump up and down, they want to get closer to the rails."

Gatherall said that excitement can be dangerous if people stand up on benches beside rails, something he has seen happen on other boats.

"The vessel makes a little roll, next thing you got someone in the water," said Gatherall.

Gatherall said he will be waiting to see what the Transportation Safety Board findings and recommendations are from the B.C. sinking.

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