VANCOUVER – The officer in charge of navigating the Queen of the North blamed another vessel and poor visibility minutes after the B.C. Ferries ship missed a critical turn and slammed into an island, one of his colleagues testified Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court.
In the hours after being rescued from the sinking ship, Second Officer Keven Hilton wrote notes about what he had just witnessed, including the brief explanation from Fourth Officer Karl Lilgert in the midst of the crisis.
“Karl said he was giving the other boat some room,” Hilton read from his notes at the trial, adding he also included the words “limited visibility.”
But asked by the Crown whether he felt either reason was valid, Hilton told the court there was nothing to indicate there had been another boat in the nearby vicinity or anything more than the usual rain at the time.
Lilgert has pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing the deaths of two passengers who were aboard the ferry and presumed drowned.
Hilton and Lilgert were sharing the same duty on board the ship on March 22, 2006. Hilton had been navigating prior to the accident and had handed off the task to Lilgert.
The Crown argues Lilgert is responsible for the crash into Gil Island that occurred as he was in charge during the overnight voyage from Prince Rupert, B.C., to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island.
Hilton, the senior officer of the two, told court he had no concerns when he gave up control and went for a meal break. He said he had been away from the bridge on other occasions during the portion of the course that went awry that night.
“It was a routine turn, usually made on autopilot,” he said. “You’re in no particular hurry to make it, it’s just a very easy turn and a very easy transit.”
Hilton was also asked about whether he had any concerns when Karen Bricker took up her post as the quartermaster, whose role it is to either manually steer the ship or monitor while it was on autopilot.
“I was confident in her doing the job … and I was confident leaving Karl with her,” he said.
Court has heard Bricker and Lilgert were former lovers working together on that shift for the first time since their breakup.
Under cross-examination, Hilton was questioned about a fishing vessel he had noticed during his shift before handing control over to Lilgert.
Hilton said he had pointed it out to the other officer when they traded off duties.
He testified that radar had indicated the other vessel was moving in the same direction as the Queen of the North, only slower, but he reiterated the boat was far enough away that it was not of any concern.
Ninety-nine people were rescued when the ship went down, but the bodies of Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette were never found.
The trial is expected to last about six months.