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Tofino whale-watching vessel had passed stability test: Transport Canada

The whale-watching ship that capsized off British Columbia’s coast, killing five people, passed a stability test after an observation deck was added when it was converted from a tugboat, Transport Canada said Thursday.
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A screengrab from CHEK News shows the Leviathan II as the whale watching boat is righted and raised from the area wher it capsized near Plover Reefs on Sunday.

The whale-watching ship that capsized off British Columbia’s coast, killing five people, passed a stability test after an observation deck was added when it was converted from a tugboat, Transport Canada said Thursday.

MV Leviathan II, originally built in 1981, was once a forest-industry tug and was lengthened and had a deck added 15 years later for the whale-watching industry.

“The owner prepared a stability assessment, including an incline experiment, at that time. Transport Canada approved this work and certified the vessel,” said a Transport Canada statement.

The ship capsized on Sunday with 27 people on board, about 15 kilometres from the tourist community of Tofino, which is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Five British nationals died and a 27-year-old male from Australia is missing.

Preliminary findings from Transportation Safety Board investigators indicate most passengers were on the top deck when it was hit by a wave from the opposite side and rolled, sending all aboard into the water.

“This would have raised the centre of gravity, affecting the vessel’s stability,” Marc-André Poisson, the TSB’s director of marine investigations, said this week.

Transport Canada states on its website that vessel stability is a fundamental component of seaworthiness, and it is in the interest of owners and operators to ensure their vessels have a satisfactory level of stability in order to ensure safety.

“A vessel’s stability is the measure of its ability to withstand high winds, waves and other forces resulting from its operations and resist capsizing by returning to an upright position after being heeled over,” it says.

Transport Canada did not provide the details of the Leviathan’s incline test. The website states naval architects can determine stability with mathematical formulas that indicate the forces acting on the vessel at different incline angles.

But, it warns, “compliance with the stability criteria does not ensure immunity against capsizing.”

Jamie Bray, owner of Jamie’s Whaling Station and the Leviathan II, said the boat sank in an area it goes to almost daily and the boat has operated for 20 years “with an absolutely perfect safety record.”

TSB spokesman Eric Collard said Thursday that divers were able to recover electronic equipment that could provide valuable data to piece together the sequence of events surrounding the sinking.

“We were successful in extracting some of the electronics and it’s being sent to our engineering lab in Ottawa for examination,” he said. “Any information that can be extracted can help the investigation.”

The TSB’s report into the sinking could take months to complete, but the federal body can issue public statements in the interests of safety before the release of a final report, Collard said.

New Democrat MLA Scott Fraser, who represents the Tofino area, was the resort community’s mayor in 1998 when two people died in a whale-watching accident involving a rigid-hulled inflatable boat owned by Jamie’s Whaling Station.

Fraser said whale-watching has its risks but people are drawn to the adventure and majesty of the local environment.

“Whale-watching, if you look at the track record of it, has a pretty darn good record for safety,” he said. “The problem being is it’s the open Pacific. People are coming to the west coast of Vancouver Island to experience by the millions the raw power of the place.”

The B.C. Coroners Service identified the five victims as Britons David Thomas, 50, and his 18 year-old son Stephen; Jack Slater, 76, a British national living in Toronto; Katie Taylor, a 29-year-old Briton living in Whistler; and 63-year-old Nigel Hooker of Southampton, England.

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