At 8:00 pm on the 21st of March, 2006, the Queen of the North, with 101 passengers and crew on board, set sail from Prince Rupert for an overnight voyage through the Inside Passage to Port Hardy. It was a route the ship and her crew had sailed thousands of times before. By all indications, this was to be just another pleasant, routine sailing. As the ferry left the berth at Prince Rupert, nobody could have imagined that this voyage was to be her last.
It was a few minutes past midnight on the 22nd of March, 2006. The Fourth Officer and Quartermaster stood watch on the bridge. Everything seemed routine. That is, until the fourth officer saw the horrifying sight of the Gil Island shoreline just meters away. There was no time to react before the ship, traveling at 17 knots, slammed into the rocky shoreline. The ship’s momentum carried it over the rocks and into deeper water, ripping open her hull and destroying her propellers in the process.
Moments after the crisis began, the captain rushed back to the bridge of his mortally wounded ship. The rest of the officers followed closely behind. Quickly, the unthinkable truth began to dawn. The Queen of the North was sinking.
In the minutes that followed, 99 of the 101 passengers and crew were evacuated into lifeboats and rafts. The people of the Gitga’at First Nation scrambled their fishing fleet, arriving on the scene minutes before the ferry slipped beneath the waves. Immediately they began carrying survivors to their village of Hartley Bay, where the community center was converted into a makeshift rescue center. Everybody in the village banded together to rescue and care for the survivors. The village’s populace would later receive the Governor General’s Commendation for Outstanding Service for their role in the rescue. Tragically, despite the heroic efforts of the ship’s crew, the Gitga’at First Nation, and the Canadian Coast Guard, passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette were killed in the accident.
The early morning of March 22, 2006 was a waking nightmare for 101 people, and what happened in Wright Sound that morning stunned the province and the industry. Important lessons have been learned from this tragedy. Today, we take a moment to remember those who were lost that morning, as well as the heroic actions of many selfless individuals. Today, we take a moment to reflect on the events that unfolded off Gil Island, fourteen years ago today.
Let Us Remember.