Nova Scotia

Safety expert recommends review of Englishtown ferry

A Nova Scotia naval architect says it's important to analyse a recent ferry accident for possible safety improvments, but it's unlikely a solution would involve design changes.

Stopping a speeding car on the Englishtown ferry almost impossible, says naval architect

Nova Scotia's minister of transportation says the crash on the Englishtown ferry in Cape Breton last week was an unfortunate accident, but the ferry was up to safety standards. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

A marine safety expert in Nova Scotia says it’s important to investigate the fatal accident on the Englishtown ferry earlier this month to improve safety in the province, but it's unlikely a solution would involve design changes to the ferry itself.

Jerry Hengeveld, 81, drove off the ferry and into the icy waters of St. Anns Bay in Cape Breton on March 25. Just five days before the Englishtown accident a woman died when her car broke through a barrier and went off a ferry at Gabriola Island in British Columbia.

Aly El-Iraki, a naval architect with the Nautical Institute of the Nova Scotia Community College, said slowing down an out-of-control vehicle on a ferry is possible with speed bumps or tire wells, but stopping a fast-moving car would be nearly impossible.

"Once you are on a ferry with this high speed and you have only two seconds, it's very difficult to come up with an effective solution. But I'm not saying that we shouldn't examine it. This is the whole point of safety, that you identify the risks and start mitigating them," he said.

"Of course we should look into it, because again, one accident is an accident too many."

El-Iraki said it's possible to make ferry ramps so steep that no vehicle could drive off by accident, but it creates docking complications with waves and shifting tides.

He said while ferry safety in Canada is excellent and fatalities are extremely rare, forcing vehicles to drive through tight curves on shore before getting on to the ferry could help.

"I would think that controlling the approach to the ferry would be the first step before we go into changing the design of the ferry itself," he said.

Police in Baddeck say a mechanical report on the car is expected on Monday.

An investigation by the Department of Transportation has already ruled the crash an accident and cleared the ferry to return to service.