VANCOUVER - Shortly after photographs appeared in news reports of two missing passengers from the sunken Queen of the North ferry, others who were on the ship that night started reporting foggy memories of possibly seeing them, either at sea or on land.
The sightings just added to the mystery of what exactly happened to Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, court has heard
Several survivors thought they might have spotted one or both of them in the First Nations community of Hartley Bay, where most were taken after the sinking. Others recalled watching two unidentified people step out of a floating life raft into a mysterious fishing boat and sail away.
But mostly, the details have been vague and the witnesses have admitted they weren't entirely sure what they saw, if anything at all.
Still, the sightings have hung over the criminal negligence trial for Karl Lilgert, the navigation officer on the bridge when the ferry struck an island on March 22, 2006. His lawyers have used those sightings to foster doubt about the fate of Foisy and Rosette.
Lilgert is on trial for criminal negligence causing their deaths, and among the many facts the Crown must prove for a conviction is that the couple died that night.
Their bodies were never recovered, though they have long been presumed drowned at sea.
The latest witness to add the confusion was Joanne Pierce, the ship's second steward.
On Wednesday, Pierce said she was certain she had seen Foisy just before the ship left Prince Rupert as she helped check passengers into their cabins. She also told the court she never saw them again.
One of Pierce's tasks in Hartley Bay was to conduct roll calls of the survivors once they were gathered in the community's cultural centre, and she testified she didn't encounter them during the roll call or in the hours she spent wandering around interacting with passengers.
However, she told police about a week after the sinking that she might have seen Foisy in Hartley Bay. In an interview with an investigator, a transcript of which was read in court, Pierce said she might have spotted him very briefly outside and possibly again in the cultural centre, but she stressed she wasn't sure.
Seven years later, she said she has no memory of ever seeing Foisy in Hartley Bay.
"What's clear in my mind is I remember seeing him in the purser's square (on the ferry) and not so clear about Hartley Bay," said Pierce.
"However, if that's what I said (to police), I guess it's a possibility."
Most of the passengers ended up in Hartley Bay, while three dozen crew and passengers were taken to a nearby coast guard vessel. The trial has already heard the couple wasn't seen on the coast guard ship.
By the time everyone reached Hartley Bay, it was quickly becoming apparent there was a discrepancy between the list of 101 passengers and crew who boarded the ship and the tally of survivors.
Pierce and her colleagues asked each passenger and crew member in Hartley Bay to write their names on a large sheet of paper. The names of Foisy and Rosette did not appear on that list.
Lilgert's lawyers have attempted to suggest there is doubt about what happened to Foisy and Rosette, though they have not offered their own theory.
His lawyers have pointed to the sightings at Hartley Bay and the testimony that a fishing boat may have taken two people away from the life rafts.
They have pointed out crew members were assigned to search the ship for anyone still on board but believed the ship was empty when they abandoned ship.
They have also noted initial attempts to count the survivors at sea came up with 101, leading the crew to believe everyone had made it off alive.
The Crown alleges Lilgert's negligence led to the couple's deaths. They say Lilgert failed in his duties when the ferry missed a scheduled course alteration and sailed towards an island.
The defence has suggested poor training, unreliable equipment and inadequate staffing policies contributed to the crash.
Lilgert has pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death.
His trial, which started in January, is expected to last up to six months.
© Copyright 2013