Canadian Coast Guard crew arrive at a dock in Tofino

Jamie’s Whaling Station says cause for Sunday’s disaster still unknown

The company held a press conference in Tofino on Monday to discuss Sunday's tragic whale watching disaster.

Jamie’s Whaling Station held a press conference Monday afternoon to speak to Sunday’s tragic whale watching disaster that killed at least five of the 27 people on board the Leviathan II with one passenger still unaccounted for.

“As I’m sure you can appreciate we’re still just beginning to get the details from what has occurred yesterday and our first priority is doing everything we can to assist our passengers, crew and the families of those of who have been impacted by this tragic incident,” said the company’s general manager Corene Inouye.

“I want to begin by saying that this has been an incredibly difficult time for everyone involved and our whole community. The safety and security of our passengers is our main concern and we are absolutely devastated by what took place on the water yesterday…This is a tragic accident and our thoughts and prayers go out to our passengers, crew and everyone impacted.”

She said the cause for the disaster is not yet known but noted the Transportation Safety Board of Canada has launched an investigation and Jamie’s staff will assist in any way they can.

She said the Leviathan II was operating normally prior to its departure on Sunday and was nearing the end of a regularly scheduled stop at Plover Reef when disaster struck.

“To the best of our knowledge there was no distress call. From what we know at this stage it appears the incident happened so quickly the crew didn’t have an opportunity to send out a mayday,” she said.

She said flares deployed by the crew were seen by local boaters who raced to help.

“Local First Nations fishermen were the first to see (the flares) and rushed to the scene to come to the assistance of our passengers and crew,” she said.

She said the vessel’s skipper has over 20 years of local whale watching experience and the two other crewmembers have five and three years experience.

“All are licensed by Transport Canada and go through rigorous training as well as biweekly safety drills and exercises,” she said.

She said the company is devastated by what occurred and thanked the West Coast community for its support.

“I want to conclude by giving our most heartfelt thanks to the entire community for their efforts, those on water, those on land, and the people who opened their hearts and homes to feed and clothe those in needs,” she said.

“We are all deeply saddened this has happened. Our sincerest thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by this.”

During the conference’s question period, the company’s owner Jamie Bray was asked how he was feeling about the incident.

“Traumatized would be an appropriate word,” he responded.

“I think the whole community has experienced the same emotions…We’re all traumatized.”

He noted the Leviathan II has completed the same route twice a day for 20 years without incident.

“This is an area that the boat goes to everyday,” he said.

“The crew is very well trained…We just don’t understand and we won’t know the answers until the Transportation Safety Board finishes their investigations.”

He said he has not yet spoken with the Leviathan II’s three crewmembers about the incident.

“They got in off the rescue boats last night. They were cold, wet, and basically we let them do their thing…we haven’t really talked to them,” he said.

He said the vessel carries about 50 adult-sized life jackets and 20 children’s life jackets but that these are not always worn during the Leviathan II’s excursions.

“Transport Canada advises not to wear a lifejacket on a vessel with enclosed compartments. In the event of a sinking it would be very difficult to exit a vessel when you’re being held up onto the ceiling or the deck with a lifejacket on,” he said.

He said the capsized vessel’s engine was still running when emergency responders located it.

andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca