Coho was unable to stop reversing before crashing into dock, ferry official says

Savannah Rybski was on the Coho ferry when it crashed into the docks in Victoria and captured this video.

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The MV Coho was getting ready to set sail for its scheduled 7:30 p.m. trip to Port Angeles, Wash., on Wednesday night when the captain started reversing the ship to start the journey. He then attempted to move the ship forward and turn right, but failed to do so, crashing the rear of the vessel into an empty float plane dock owned by the harbour authority, the ferry's operator said.

Ryan Burles, president of Black Ball Ferry Line, which owns and operates the Coho, said the harbour patrol came to the scene. With no one harmed in the collision, and no major damage to the ship, the vessel was cleared by the harbour master to continue on its journey to Port Angeles.

Burles refused Thursday to speculate about the potential cause behind the crash, pointing out an official investigation is underway.

“We need to look at what particularly happened and always think how to make sure things like this don’t occur,” Burles said.

The Coho could have turned around once outside the breakwater and gone back, he said, but the large ship would have been more of a safety hazard if it had stayed in the harbour.

Despite wind levels reaching 20 to 25 knots, Burles played down the effect, saying it wasn’t unusual weather.

There was no significant damage to the vessel. The long dock it struck was broken into three pieces. No float planes were moored there at the time.

The collision is being investigated by Transport Canada’s Marine Safety Unit, the Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Coast Guard. Even though the collision happened in Canadian waters, the ship is registered in the U.S. and requires an investigation by U.S. authorities.

In the 53 years Black Ball has operated in Victoria, collisions have been rare, Burles said.

He dismissed any question of inexperience being a factor. The captain of the Coho has 20 years of experience, including 11 years as a captain. He was scheduled to work Thursday before his regular seven-day leave began today.

Canadian officials are keen to investigate. “We want to ensure that [the collision] was reported properly and they were properly complying with regulations,” said Jillian Glover, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada, adding that the department wanted to clarify why the vessel continued on its journey.

She confirmed officials would interview the captain and consult record logs.

The Transportation Safety Board’s marine investigation unit for the Pacific region, which operates independently of Transport Canada, interviewed both the captain and the first engineer on Thursday. The engine and the telegraph systems are set to be examined today.

Raymond Mathew, the unit’s manager, said he does not expect a report about the collision to be released.

Officials with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority said the matter of the broken dock is in the hands of its insurance company, which is surveying the damage. 

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On Wednesday night, Victoria Regent guest Doug Christensen couldn’t believe his eyes as he watched the ferry move closer and closer to his suite. Christensen and his family, who live in Ottawa, had just arrived for their regular stay at the Regent, so the Coho departing was not an unfamiliar sight.

When it didn’t start pulling ahead like it normally does, Christensen knew something was wrong.

“It kept getting closer and closer. I said to the kids, ‘I think that’s going to hit the hotel or at least the rocks in front of the hotel,’ ” Christensen said.

“It kept coming closer and closer. Then the people on the top deck of the Coho started running toward the bow — away from the impact because they could see it coming. ... She kept coming back further and further and then crashed all the docks just like they were kindling or toothpicks. Just the noise of it and the docks flipping upside down in the air and some of the big 100 gallon tanks going up in the air. It was unbelievable.”

It was “pretty shocking,” Christensen said. “We’ve never seen it come that close. . . . It moved laterally and it just hesitated in the harbour for a while, I guess they were on the radio and then it moved off slowly.”

Victoria fire and harbour authority officials rushed to the waterfront after the collision occurred.

The fire department dispatched both a land crew and a fire boat.

Damage appeared surprisingly minor. A long dock where the planes docked was broken into three pieces and had to be secured.

The ferry continued its journey to Port Angeles shortly after the collision.

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority announced about three weeks ago it had bought the Hyack Air float plane terminal and docks

Curtis Grad, Harbour Authority CEO, said from their standpoint it’s a property damage claim that the Coho’s owners will put to their insurer.

“We’ve had damage to our floats. We’ve secured them and we’ll deal with the insurance company in the morning and start planning the rebuilding of the damaged floats,” Grad said. An engineering assessment will have to be done to determine the extent of the damage, he said.

Grad wouldn’t speculate on the cause of the crash.

“I think I’ll wait for Transport Canada to do their investigation but clearly there was contact between the ferry and the dock and it was the stern that struck the floats. Transport is going to have to investigate that and determine the cause,” Grad said.

No planes were tied up at the near-vacant Hyack site at the time of the crash. But pointing to a multimillion-dollar yacht berthed just metres away, Victoria Fire Lieut. Doug Taylor said it could have been much worse.

“We’re not sure what happened. Why he backed up that far, that yacht’s a $15-million yacht and he’s only a little way away from it.”

nwells@timescolonist.com | bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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