On March 22, 2006, just after midnight, the B.C. Ferries passenger vessel the ‘Queen of the North’ struck an underwater ledge off Gil Island, 135 km south of Prince Rupert, tearing open the bottom of the ship and ripping out the propellers.
It sank to the bottom of Wright Sound in less than an hour, 427 metres below the surface.
Despite the crew’s skillful evacuation of the 101 passengers aboard, two people went missing and have never been found, ultimately being declared deceased.
Helmswomen Karen Briker was fired. Fourth Mate Karl Lilgert was charged with criminal negligence causing death and sentenced to four years in prison.
Even though he was rightfully in his cabin when the collision happened, the ship’s Captain, Colin Henthorne, was also fired.
On the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, Henthorne has released his first-hand account of what really happened on the night of the ship’s sinking via a fascinating new book from Harbour Publishing titled ‘The Queen of the North Disaster: the Captain’s Story.’
Henthorne “recalls with accuracy and detail that ill-fated voyage and all its terrible repercussions,” said Harbour Publishing in a press release, adding that the book “dispels rumours about what really happened that night, revealing a fascinating inside look at a modern marine disaster.”
In an interview over the phone, Henthorne stated he wanted to write the book because “there’s been a lot of stuff said about the sinking, and nobody’s heard anything from me. I haven’t been able to say my thoughts publicly, so this was my chance to do so.”
He added that the book “kind of evolved over time. I had to write things down so I wouldn’t forget anything. Then as things progressed, I was constantly having to write down more things in response to lawyers.”
Over the course of a few years, he slowly transformed his writings into a full-length book, and the first draft was then sent out to a publishing company.
The actual writing of the book “Sometimes seemed like hard work, other times it came along easy,” he said, adding that there were “passages that were difficult to write. There was a lot of anger in some of the passages, where all I really wanted to do was call people names, but I had to find a proper way to say what was needed to be said.”
When asked about being fired from BC Ferries due to the sinking of the ship, Henthorne first said that he “wasn’t expecting it,” but then added that he had actually thought about the subject and “talked about it with my lawyer, but I was assured all along I’d be okay. I actually thought they were phoning me to come back to work, but they fired me.”
Henthorne fought the termination from Jan. 11, 2007 until Nov. 24, 2011, when he lost on appeal to the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
Henthorne felt the five-year process of trying to keep his job wasn’t the most frustrating part. He was more so upset that “the workers compensation tribunal ignored every piece of evidence that we presented. Their arguments were completely lame and we were flabbergasted when we lost. It was a miscarriage of justice all the way.”
As for Lilgert’s four year prison sentence, Henthorne noted that “I guess it depends on what you think is fair. I really have a hard time with it. If you’re going on the balance of probabilities, he may not have proved that he was innocent, but neither side really proved anything.”
On the subject of the two passengers who went missing and were declared deceased, Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, Henthorne said they were definitely “seen on board, that’s confirmed all the way,” adding that the crew “expected them to turn up, but in the end they didn’t. When people go missing you always hope they turn up. Maybe it’s denial, but 10 years later I still hope. I just can’t help it.”
When asked how he feels about the tragedy now that a decade has passed, Henthorne took a deep breath and said that the entire ordeal has “just been an exercise in living with anger and trying to let it go, trying to not let it eat me up. I’ve reached a point now where something will remind me of it and I’ll get angry, but I know the anger’s not going to destroy me. I try to just let it wash over me.”
Henthorne was born in Vancouver and grew up in British Columbia. He has spent nearly all his life living and working on the water.
He got his first command at the age of 21 and his entire career has been dedicated to command.
He sailed as a master with BC Ferries starting in 1990 and was 52 when the Queen of the North sank. He has continued to work aboard and to command ships.
At the time of this writing, he is a Canadian Coast Guard Rescue Co-ordinator at the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria, B.C.