Fishing trawler crashes into docked navy ship at CFB Esquimalt, six people hurt

A Seattle factory fishing trawler being towed into Esquimalt Harbour crashed into a docked warship Tuesday, causing seawater to slam onto the bows of both vessels. Maintenance workers and crew members were on board both vessels and six people suffered minor injuries.

American Seafoods Company’s 272-foot American Dynasty broke away from two tugboats and ran into HMCS Winnipeg, said Larry Edwards of the Esquimalt public works department, who saw the collision from his window.

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No estimates have been released on how much it might cost to repair the ships and the jetty at CFB Esquimalt where Winnipeg was docked. The warship was due back in service this month after undergoing a massive refit and systems upgrade.

Edwards said he saw a tug on the port side of the trawler’s bow helping it to swivel. Whatever went wrong happened quickly, he said.

“It wasn’t even a couple of minutes when the tug backed off in a hurry, and very quickly, within 15 to 20 seconds, we heard the boom and the wall of water rushed over the Winnipeg’s bow,” Edwards said.

The trawler came in hard, Edwards said. The dull boom of the two enormous ships colliding rang out over the harbour. Sirens began blaring.

“The Winnipeg got pushed back considerably,” Edwards said. “You could see it move. The body of the Winnipeg must have been pushed back at least 20 feet or more .

“The wave came up over the Winnipeg and back onto the jetty. It was quite a tidal wall of water that came up over left side of the bow. It was pretty impressive.”

Sixty-five shipyard employees were aboard the warship when it was hit. Six civilians were treated for minor injuries at Victoria General Hospital and released, the Vancouver Island Health Authority said. No Canadian Forces members were injured, said Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt spokeswoman Capt. Annie Djiotsa.

None of the nine crew aboard the fishing trawler were injured, said American Seafoods chief legal officer Matthew Latimer. A marine pilot was on board at the time of the collision, the company said.

Factory trawlers such as American Dynasty catch, process and freeze fish.

Electrician Rob Patterson, who was on the warship, had to go to hospital for X-rays after the collision.

“Extremely unnerving being below decks when the impact happened,” Patterson said in an email. “We were thrown about the work areas with tools and equipment being tossed amongst us.”

Emergency crews did a great job of getting the injured off the ship to medical aid, said Patterson, who is also the Malahat Fire Rescue chief. “Help for the injured was fast and well co-ordinated,” he said.

Brian Carter, president of Seaspan Shipyards, confirmed that two of its tugs were hauling the American trawler into the Esquimalt’s commercial graving dock for scheduled maintenance and repairs when the crash occurred. “Escorting a ship in and out of the graving dock is routine business,” he said. “So an incident is very rare.”

No matter who is at fault, anything that exposes employees to risk is of great concern to the company, Carter said.

“We absolutely intend to fully investigate, learn from it, and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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