Roger writing the LAWmag
15
May 2013

Ferry Sinks - Acting Captain Convicted for Criminal Negligence

If you don't live in Canada, you won't know that everybody in one province likes to trash talk those in another by reference to their (usually made-up) oddities. But there's actually a town called Come By Chance in Newfoundland. The French survive off poutine. The northern territories live in igloos and hunt polar bears.

Many, if not all of these, are rooted in historical legends, pre-television, when word of mouth or the local newspaper was the only window in to the world.

Weird, impossible events could now be safely discounted except for those trashy grocery-store newespapers that report that the president of the United States is secretly an alien.

But then, it happenned.

Queen of the North under full steamEven lawyers ... especially lawyers could hardly believe their eyes when they saw the headlines in the May 2013 British Columbia [Canada] newspapers. This was not the era of the Titanic or the German u-boats running amok on the coast. This was 2013 and the headline was no mistake:

Ferry Sinks, Acting Captain Held Criminally Responsible For Death of Two

For the budding documentary news crews out there, here's what literally went down. British Columbia is a land rich in islands which means it has a large publicly-owned ferry network, known as BC Ferries. This is a fleet of modern, often very large ferries that bring people and cars to their various destinations.

One of those ferries, the German built, 9,000-ton Queen of the North, left Prince Rupert to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, at Port Hardy, a popular overnight sailing. Cars were secured on the lower deck and the passengers were on the comfortable upper decks. It was a long, overnight ferry cruise. 101 souls on board, mostly sleeping or drowsing off, weather and seas were calm.

Two people decided to sleep in their car in the lower vehicle deck, presumably, because they were never seen from again and could not answer these types of questions. One can only hope they slept through the ordeal as they knocked on heaven's door.

The names on the ship register: Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette.

Foisy had/has two daughters, Brittni, then 16, and Morgan, then 13.

The ferry run goes through gorgeous coastal areas but liberally sprinkled with little islands. You have to keep your head up, especially after the sun goes down.

But then, the actual captain wanted a nap and gave his seat to an underling, Karl Lilgert, who was a pot user and may of been having sex with another employee on the bridge because, as the ferry's black box later discovered, the ferry ran straight at and into a well-known island on the route.

Queen of the North under full steam

Bang! 1 a.m., March 22, 2006. Within 90 minutes, the modern ferry sank. All hands were saved except for the Foisy/Rosette couple, R.I.P., who were later confirmed as missing and lost-in-action. One passenger managed to take a grainy picture of the Queen as she slipped under the waters - image adjacent.

Thanks to the immediate and courageous actions of a local aboriginal fishing village (Hartley Bay) who must of been stunned to see the large BC Ferry sinking off-shore, all but the two missing passengers were saved. Survivors were plucked out of the waters and brought back to shore.

It was and remains unbelievable, were it not tragically true. In this day and age and in Canada, how could this happen? Why had the captain given the bridge to an underling at the most challenging part of the voyage? Was the acting captain significantly distracted? One rumour that won't go away is that he was having sex at the time of collision with an ex-lover, who was there on the bridge with him at the moment of truth. Was he stoned, a possibility which the trial judge excluded from the jury so as to not prejudice the 12 men and women against the defendant. He had a history of marijuana use on ship but, apparently, had never been called out by any BC Ferry colleague. According to the prosecutor, Karl Lilgert even had a spot on the Queen of the North, known as "Monkey Island", where he'd smoke marijuana.

Was this just another midnight party on the bridge, this one fatal? Was this deckhand, behind the wheel of the Queen of the North, having sex or an argument with a lover, another crew member, all questions the Crown brought up at trial. Again, not in 1906 but in 2006.

Whatever happenned on the bridge that night just after midning, it was a perfect storm, of another kind but just as devasting to the Queen of the North as a rogue wave in mid-Atlantic.

Lilgert had his legal team at the 2013 trial argue and allege that he was being vigilant and had issues to deal with in the water around the vessel and, of course, the best tarot card of them all, that he was dealing with faulty equipment.

But the Crown showed the computer records: a straight line right into the island, from where there should of been a turn.

On May 13, 2013, the jury returned with a guilty verdict and this was followed by other legal steps: sentencing is on May 21.

Lawyers on the losing side have declared that they will appeal the verdict, not an easy thing with a jury trial.

The appeal will play itself out but that feeling of utter safety when one enters the clean, bright precincts of a BC Ferry has gone. Now as a matter of intense curiosity is the weather and of course, though not transparent to the passengers, just who is on the bridge?

The law case has revived interest in old law books which, decades previously, dealt frequently with criminal negligence causing death by errant sea captains or crew. The long and arduous inquiries after the 1912 sinking of the Titanic are but one of many examples.

But in 2006, in Canada? In good weather with the captain sleeping and the bridge managed by a pot user who was with a former lover?

If it wasn't for the abject misery that must haunt Karl Lilgert, the loss of Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, and the loss to Brittni Foisy and Morgan Foisey of their father, one could chalk up another fun or stranger-than-fiction story for Eastern Canadian to bash British Columbia.

Instead, it is a bitter, stranger than fiction tragedy.

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