Tugboat crashes on B.C.’s North Coast 9 months after deadly incident along the same route

A tugboat crash in B.C.’s North Coast last week has revived calls for more federal government oversight on the safety of commercial vessel operations.

Around 7 p.m. PT on Nov. 2, three crew members aboard the tugboat Cadal crashed onto the shore of Rix Island. They were en route from Kitimat to Kemano, finishing dinner on the boat when they noticed they were headed straight into the beach.

“We basically got out of the pathway of the barge, because the barge was coming in pretty hot towards the beach,” said Irvin Joseph, the tugoat’s deckhand.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen, but it was pretty scary for sure,” he said. “I thought I was gonna die.”

Both WorkSafeBC and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada told CBC they’re now investigating the crash.

Wainwright, the marine services company that operates the Cadal, told CBC in an email that after speaking with the crew, they determined “human error [was] at fault” in the crash.

The company also said one of the crew members has been reassigned from his position, but did not specify who.

Joseph, who is recovering from injuries from the crash, says he worries his employer, Wainwright, isn’t taking employees’ safety seriously, given what happened along the same sea route early this year.

On Feb. 11, Troy Pearson and his crew mate Charley Cragg were killed after the tugboat they operated, Ingenika, sank while pulling a large barge in the Gardner Canal just south of Kitimat.

The third crew member on Ingenika, Zac Dolan, was rescued after making it to shore. 

Jason Woods, president of the B.C. mariners’ union International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 400, says he couldn’t believe the crash happened because the weather was good on the day of the incident.

He notes that he has spoken to Joseph and his crew mates — who aren’t members of ILWU Local 400 — after the incident, and that he found their working conditions concerning.

“Whatever training [Joseph] got, he got on the job at the time and it’s been very, very, very little and spotty,” Woods said. “Irvin’s never been to school for any kind of marine safety.”

After what happened to the Ingenika in February, ILWU Local 400 urged Transport Canada to require formal safety management systems for undersized and undermanned fleets operating along the coast. 

At the time, Woods said approximately 12 tugboats had sunk in the past two years on the West Coast — and these tugboats were often undermanned and underweight for the size of vessel they are pulling.

Now Woods argues that Ottawa should provide more funding for Transport Canada to strengthen its inspection, regulation and enforcement on the safety of commercial vessels on the West Coast.

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