Stranded Lake Erie ferry steaming to mainland

A stranded ferry that services Pelee Island in Lake Erie was pulled free just before 1 p.m. Friday, ending a 24-hour ordeal for 33 people who spent the night on the boat.

Rescue of 33 passengers aboard Pelee Island vessel stuck on sandbar since Thursday underway

Jiimaan Draws a Crowd

10 years ago
Duration 0:53
Curious onlookers talk about the stranded Jiimaan ferry.

A ferry stranded in Lake Erie has been freed from a sandbar and is steaming toward mainland under its own power.

A tugboat pulled the Jiimaan free before 1 p.m. Friday near Kingsville, Ont., southeast of Windsor. By 1:45 p.m. tugboats released the ship and it was headed to a dock in Leamington. It was to arrive at 2:30 p.m.

The Jiimaan was carrying 18 passengers and 15 crew members, along with truckloads of soybeans and grapes, when it came to a halt at 1:45 p.m. Thursday due to low water levels, 60 metres from shore in Kingsville, Ont., near Windsor.

The hours-long process to free the ferry that became stuck on a sandbar in Lake Erie began before daybreak with the arrival of a tugboat from Detroit.

The youngest passenger is an infant travelling with her father.

Sherry Bondy, the girl's grandmother, said she spoke with her son-in-law until midnight Thursday night. Friday, she waited patiently on the mainland and watched the rescue.

"She’s probably in really good spirits, cooing and laughing. She’s probably the life of the party," Bondy said of her granddaughter.

Chris Armour, marine co-ordinator with the Trenton Search and Rescue Centre, said a Great Lakes Towing tugboat from Detroit was called to the scene and that passengers will remain on the vessel until it is brought to Kingsville.

"The safest place for them is on that boat," Armour told CBC News.

The tugboat arrived around 8:30 a.m. ET. It took four hours to inspect the vessel and then begin the tow it to Leamington, not Kingsville, as originally planned, according to the Owen Sound Transportation Company.

Once it arrives in Leamington, passengers will disembark and the ship will be thoroughly inspected.

Divers examined the hull to make sure it has not been breached. So far there is no sign of underwater damage to the ship, the company tweeted late Friday morning.

Susan Schrempf, president and CEO of the Owen Sound Transportation Company, which operates the ferry said Thursday there was enough food aboard to accommodate passengers until "later into [the] evening."

The ship does have food services. Passengers were tweeting pictures of the cake they were served Thursday night.

"They're well-fed. I would imagine that the crew made them as comfortable as possible," Schrempf told CBC News on Friday.

When it came to sleeping, Schrempf said it likely wasn't easy.

"We do have additional linens and blankets and things on board that they would have been supplied, but it's a day ferry so the seating that they would have to use as beds is not extremely comfortable," Schrempf said.

The stranded ship drew a crowd of onlookers, including Dane Gogegebeur, a Kingsville resident who was on way home from work Friday.

"If I was in their shoes, I’d be a little bent. You figure they have to be compensated in some manner," he said.

"You don’t expect something like this when you board the Jiimaan," Bondy said.

Rising water levels change rescue plan

The Canadian Coast Guard originally planned to remove passengers from the boat at 5:30 a.m. Plans changed once water levels started to rise.

"Apparently there will be no early-morning rescue [on board]," one passenger said on her Twitter feed.

Some creative Twitter user has since created an account for the stranded ship: @TheStuckJiimaan.

The coast guard said strong winds and large waves made it unsafe to try to remove passengers Thursday night.

"They were safest staying on the ship," Schrempf said.

Schrempf said exiting through the cargo hold was not an option.

"We are not allowed to open the water tight openings in the hull unless we’re tied to the dock or there are extenuating circumstances," she said. "We would not disembark passengers through the vehicle deck ramp while out in the water like that."

So, those aboard spent the night on the ferry, which was stuck in the channel it uses every day to travel between Kingsville and the island.

Days of high winds moved the sand into the channel and lowered water levels, said Schrempf.

This is the second time in a decade the Jiimaan has run aground. The same captain was at the helm of the ship both times, Schrempf said.

However, the last time the Jiimaan ran aground, it freed herself and didn't need a tug or rescue.

Schrempf said people will be refunded their fare, if they ask. Otherwise, the Owen Sound Transportation Company cannot offer any other compensation. The company only runs the boat, which is owned by the Ministry of Transportation.

"Anything beyond [a refund] will have to be taken up with the Ministry of Transportation," Schrempf said. "And those considerations would be made on a case-by-case basis."

2 ferries service island

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=3208 size=small]

Earlier this year, both the Jiimaan and Pelee Islander ferries were out of service at the same time. Mechanical problems on the Jiimaan were being repaired when the Pelee Islander was undergoing routine inspection in May. The island was serviced, instead, by plane.

While the Jiimaan remains stuck, the much smaller and older Pelee Islander is still running as scheduled from Leamington, about 20 minutes east of Kingsville.

Pelee Island Mayor Rick Masse said the stranded ship underscores the importance of plans to get a new, bigger ferry sometime in the next six years.

"Right now, there's a big harvest going on in our community, and it could have a huge impact," he said of the grounded ship. "So if we had the new boat available, at least we would be able to conduct business on Pelee."