Security questions raised after ships collide at CFB Esquimalt

Damage suffered by a U.S. fishing trawler and a Canadian warship became more visible Wednesday after the two vessels were pulled apart and examined.

Now investigators are looking at why the collision between American Seafoods Company’s 272-foot American Dynasty and HMCS Winnipeg occurred Tuesday morning in Esquimalt Harbour.

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The crash has also generated questions about the security of navy vessels moored at CFB Esquimalt.

Officials from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada conducted interviews Wednesday to try to determine how the Seattle-based trawler, which was being towed by tugboats into the harbour, broke away and collided with the docked frigate on Tuesday morning.

Now moored at Victoria Shipyards, American Dynasty has a gaping hole in its bow. It was on its way to the federal graving dock Tuesday to undergo regular maintenance.

Damage to the frigate, which had recently undegone an extensive refit and systems upgrade and was due back in service this month, appeared to be less serious.

However, neither the Department of National Defence nor American Seafoods could provide damage estimates. Also, no estimates have been released on how much it might cost to repair the jetty at CFB Esquimalt where Winnipeg was docked.

HMCS Winnipeg’s hull showed a compressed section to the top, port side of the reinforced bow, according to photos released by the safety board.

The American Dynasty appeared to be worse off.

“We have insurance and other personnel on board assessing the damage and co-operating with government investigators,” said Matt Latimer, general counsel for American Seafoods Group, in an email.

Six civilian workers from Victoria Shipyards were injured while working on HMCS Winnipeg and taken to hospital by ambulance. They suffered bumps and bruises and none required hospital admission, said a shipyard spokesman.

On the Marine Forces Pacific’s Facebook page, Tyler Wagner commented that his father was one of those injured: “He is pretty bruised all over with some sprains, but he is slowly recovering and the medication is helping the pain.”

A spokesman for Maritime Forces (Pacific) said there would be no statements issued Wednesday.

The navy will conduct its own investigation “but it’s very, very preliminary right now,” said Lt.-Cmdr. Desmond James.

The warship wasn’t facing a imminent deployment overseas, James said. There’s no word on how long it will be for the ship to be repaired.

He couldn’t comment on whether DND is reviewing the security of its ships in Esquimalt Harbour: “I can’t really speak to anything that’s part of the investigation — period,” James said.

“The Winnipeg was [at the dock] and a fishing vessel hit her — there’s not much else for us to say,” James said.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris said the collision does raise security concerns.

“I guess a lot of people are wondering out loud how one of our warships could be damaged in such a manner in Esquimalt Harbour,” Harris said.

He called pictures of the incident “pretty stark and shocking.”

Harris said the harbour is busy and further safety measures could be a point of discussion.

“I would wonder what other special precautions may need to be taken,” he said. “We’re assuming this was an accident, obviously, but it certainly shows that this kind of thing can happen.”

charnett@timescolonist.com

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

— With files from Jeff Bell 

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