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Ferry Northern Expedition at sea when warning hit

The 150-metre-long Northern Expedition, the B.C.
Photo - B.C. Ferries sign generic
B.C. Ferries Tsawwassen terminal.

The 150-metre-long Northern Expedition, the B.C. Ferries vessel that plies the waters between northern Vancouver Island and the northwest coast of the province, was nearly held at sea early Tuesday in the wake of a tsunami warning being issued for the region.

The vessel, which was crossing from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii when the warning was sounded, was not affected by any waves from the magnitude 7.9 quake that struck off Alaska at 1:31 a.m.

The vessel, which can carry 600 passengers and crew and 130 vehicles, docked safely with 46 passengers in Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, Tuesday morning at 5:30, slightly ahead of schedule.

Deborah Marshall, executive director of public affairs for B.C. Ferries, said the corporation’s operations and security centre in downtown Victoria was alerted shortly after the earthquake was recorded and contacted the vessel, which had left Prince Rupert at 10 p.m. Monday.

“The Northern Expedition was travelling from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii and was about two-thirds of the way there,” she said. “They were going to delay their arrival, but [the tsunami warning issued at 1:38 a.m.] was called off by the time they were getting close.”

At sea, the vessel would have been in a good place to weather any kind of wave activity resulting from the earthquake, Marshall said.

“The safest place for our ships is deep water, 500 feet or greater,” she said. “If vessels are in berth, the best thing to do is slacken the lines so if there is a rise in water level, there would be enough slack to accommodate the rise.”

Marshall said everything worked as it is supposed to at B.C. Ferries and its 24-hours-a-day operations centre, but said the corporation will review the event to see what it can learn from the response.

At Victoria International Airport, Ken Gallant, the director of operations and safety, said: “It all went [according] to plan today. We are definitely looking at a slight revision to some of our policies, but everything went as expected.” The slight revisions are to do with names, titles and contact numbers, Gallant said.

He said the airport responded shortly after receiving alerts at its emergency operations centre from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S., the Town of Sidney and other alert systems.

“Depending on the alert, our response plan has different measures of evacuation,” he said.

“Thankfully, this morning was just an alert. We were aware, on standby and then it was cancelled, so we didn’t have to start implementing any of our evacuation procedures.”

This would have included having a response team on the ground at the airport and the firehall ramping up, while the airport management team was notified.

As for aircraft waiting on the airport’s apron, Gallant said moving them would be up to each airline.

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