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B.C. Ferries watches South Korea tragedy for lessons

B.C. Ferries officials are keeping a close watch on South Korea, hoping to learn whatever they can about the tragic ferry sinking and how it could have been prevented.

B.C. Ferries officials are keeping a close watch on South Korea, hoping to learn whatever they can about the tragic ferry sinking and how it could have been prevented.

“We certainly are listening and wanting to understand what happened here, because this is a very significant tragedy,” said Jamie Marshall, B.C. Ferries vice-president of fleet operations. “Our hearts go out to the families of the crew and passengers on board.”

Information that comes out of the sinking will be applied to B.C. Ferries if at all relevant, Marshall said.

The South Korean ferry capsized Wednesday while carrying 475 passengers and crew, including more than 300 students on an outing. There were still about 270 missing passengers as of today, and bad weather was hampering further rescue efforts. Twenty-five people had been confirmed dead.

Marshall noted that the ferry involved was built in 1994. “It’s about the same vintage as our Spirit-class vessels, so very modern technology.”

B.C. Ferries is part of the Canadian Ferry Operators Association and shares information with other members as much as possible, Marshall said. It also connects with other shipping concerns through worldwide affiliations.

“We are all governed by what’s called the International Maritime Organization, which is a body that governs all shipping in the world,” he said.

Marshall said B.C. Ferries also has a program where employees are encouraged to come forward with safety concerns.

“We learn from all the small near misses and incidents, so we avoid things like what happened in the tragedy and disaster with the Korean ferry.”

Despite all the things that can happen, the vessel itself is rarely at fault when an accident occurs, Marshall said.

“Eighty per cent of marine accidents are related to human factors.”

In 2006, the B.C. Ferries vessel Queen of the North sank after hitting rocks off Gil Island. Navigator Karl Lilgert was convicted on two counts of criminal negligence causing death and sentenced to four years in prison. The charges arose from the deaths of passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, who have not been seen since the vessel went down.

jwbell@timescolonist.com