B.C. ferry that sank wasn't fully staffed

The bridge of an ill-fated British Columbia ferry may not have been staffed according to federal government regulations before the ship slammed into an island and sank, a B.C. Supreme Court jury heard Thursday.

A senior crew member on the Queen of the North testified that staff didn't have a clear interpretation of the regulations over how many people were required to man the bridge.

Under cross-examination, Richard St. Pierre was shown a BC Ferries document from two years prior to the crash that indicates three people were required to be on the ferry's bridge.

"It went back and forth a few times. I think at the time we were manning in accordance with regulations," St. Pierre said of his confidence the interpretation was correct even though the number didn't match the document. "It wasn't black and white."

Two people were tasked with manoeuvring the BC Ferry when the collision occurred just after midnight in March 2006.

The navigation officer on the bridge that night, Karl Lilgert, is accused of criminal negligence causing the deaths of two passengers on the ferry.

St. Pierre told the jury some officers were aware federal regulations stated three people should be involved under certain conditions, but said there were disagreements over those rules.

The court heard that a 2004 memo, written on BC Ferries letterhead, included a table citing the Canada Shipping Act.

It stated the minimal requirements during a navigational watch as being "an officer of the watch" and an "additional person," as well as "a second additional person" during certain conditions.

"Those conditions being restricted visibility, congested traffic density, hazardous navigational situations, the local prohibition of the use of auto pilot and at night," a Crown lawyer read to the witness.

St. Pierre said that nonetheless, he routinely staffed the bridge with only two people navigating and steering the ship at night, although he always had the discretion to direct a third person to join that job.

"You could, (but) you wouldn't get any work done," St. Pierre said, explaining the third person was better used elsewhere.

On the night of the sinking, Lilgert and quartermaster Karen Bricker, whose role it was to actually steer the ship, were on the bridge when it crashed.

The Crown is arguing Lilgert was responsible when the ferry failed to make a critical turn and slammed into Gil Island during its voyage from Prince Rupert, B.C. to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island.

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