The 13-metre Stellar Sea struck a rock and went aground during a bear watching trip off Tofino in October, 2016.

TSB says poor lookout contributed to vessel running aground near Tofino

“The investigation determined that there was insufficient passage planning prior to the occurrence.”

“Insufficient passage planning and inadequate lookout for hazards,” contributed to a wildlife-watching vessel running aground off Tofino in 2016, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

The 13-metre Stellar Sea, owned by Jamie’s Whaling Station, struck a rock near Warn Bay during an afternoon bear-watching voyage on Oct. 1, 2016, reads a report released by the TSB Thursday morning. Two crewmembers and 26 passengers were on board. All were evacuated safely.

The TSB’s report suggests the master of the vessel was navigating shallow waters around Fortune Channel looking for wildlife to show passengers.

“After spotting a bear in Warn Bay, he navigated in its direction,” the report states. “The Stellar Sea struck a rock and went aground, causing two passengers to fall and sustain minor injuries.”

The report states that Jamie’s dispatched two vessels to rescue the Stellar Sea’s passengers and crew with nine passengers boarding the first rescue vessel and another 17 being instructed to abandon ship and move onto the rock while the second vessel was en route.

After everyone involved was safely evacuated, the vessel was towed for inspection and repairs, according to the TSB.

“The investigation determined that there was insufficient passage planning prior to the occurrence,” the report states. “Planning did not include strategies to identify and mitigate the risks posed by navigating alone in a challenging marine environment, filled with numerous hazards, such as rocks, reefs and a large tidal range. For example, the chart plotter and the echo sounder system were not used to their full potential, and available safety zone alarms were not enabled.”

The report also suggests that there was inadequate lookout for hazards during the voyage.

“No dedicated lookout had been posted,” it states. “The master, alone in the wheelhouse, was performing multiple tasks that interfered with his ability to focus on the course ahead. As a result, no one saw the protruding rock in time to prevent the accident.”

The report adds that the Canadian Coast Guard was not informed of the incident until four hours after it occurred.

“In this occurrence, the passengers and crew were evacuated safely before the CCG was alerted,” it reads. “Nonetheless, if companies or masters do not alert search-and-rescue resources in a timely manner, there is an increased risk that the response will not be timely, effective, or coordinated.”

“While we are very thankful that all of our passengers and crew were evacuated safely during this incident, we do take any safety issues extremely seriously,” the statement reads. “There are a few clear messages from the TSB report around passage planning and other recommendations that we will be reviewing and seeing where we can continue to enhance our procedures.”

Jamie’s Whaling Station released a response to the TSB’s report on Thursday afternoon and agreed the Canadian Coast Guard should have been notified immediately.

“The TSB did acknowledge that other vessels evacuated the passengers and crew safely and the failure to contact the Coast Guard did not affect the outcome of this incident, but regardless this didn’t meet up to our standards and existing safety plans,” the company’s statement reads. “We know we must do better. We’ve been in business for more than 35 years and have the trust of our passengers from around the world….We know the well-being of our passengers and crew depends on us and we take that responsibility seriously.”

The statement adds that anyone wanting more information about the safety of the company’s vessels can visit www.jamies.com/about/safety.

“As part of our ongoing commitment to safety we have a dedicated training and vessel maintenance schedule in place and have made significant investments in ensuring we have safety and life-saving equipment on our vessels that not only meet, but exceeds Transport Canada standards,” it reads. “We also have professionally certified and experienced crew running all of our tours and continue to ensure their training is updated.”

The TSB’s report states Jamie’s updated its emergency and operational procedures manual in March 2017 that includes contacting the Coast Guard more quickly in emergencies and an increased frequency of safety drills.

In June of 2017, Jamie’s received a list of recommendations from the TSB in response to 2015’s tragic capsizing of the company’s Leviathan II, which killed six of the 24 passengers onboard the 20-metre wildlife watching vessel. The District of Tofino and Ahousaht First Nation received Medals of Good Citizenship from then-premiere Christy Clark, for their lifesaving efforts that day. Local paramedics received the Tony Sunderland Memorial Plaque of Pride for their efforts in the disaster’s aftermath.

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