The incident

On 18 April 2020, at 1501, the Spirit of Vancouver Island departed Swartz Bay, British Columbia (BC), for Tsawwassen, BC.

On the previous day, the crew had experienced a situation where the vessel had departed Tsawwassen 9 minutes late despite having arrived on time. The Spirit of Vancouver Island was scheduled to depart berth 3 at 1700, allowing 15 minutes before the scheduled 1715 arrival of the next ferry to use berth 3.

At 1616, as the Spirit of Vancouver Island was approximately 3 nm off the outer dolphin, the bridge team notified the master and commenced the pre-arrival checklist. At this time, a deckhand went to the forecastle deck to stand by the anchors. The master arrived on the bridge at 1620 and took control of the vessel. The chief officer assumed the role of co-navigator.

At 1622, after briefing the bridge team, the master began reducing the vessel’s speed for arrival. At this time, the vessel was approximately 1 NM off the outer dolphin. The tide was ebbing and the bridge team anticipated that the vessel would set to the southeast. The winds were from the southeast at 8 to 10 knots.


To counteract the effects of the wind and tide, the vessel approached by steering on8 berth 5, which was located to the left side of berth 3. The master subsequently ordered the helmsman to adjust the course to starboard and steer on the end of the Spirit of British Columbia, which was moored at berth 4. The master then ordered the helmsman to adjust the course to starboard again and steer down the middle of berth 3.

At 1624, the vessel was approximately 0.25 NM from the outer dolphin, which is the command decision point (CDP)9 for Spirit class vessels approaching Tsawwassen. At the CDP, the master must make the decision whether to proceed with or abort the planned manoeuvre. With all machinery components operating satisfactorily, the master continued with the approach. Soon after, the master observed that the vessel was setting in the opposite direction to that expected.

To counteract this, the master ordered the helmsman to adjust the course further to starboard and steer at a point halfway down the wall of berth 3. A few seconds later, the master applied astern pitch to the starboard engine, while the port engine was maintained on ahead pitch. The speed of the vessel at the time was 13.9 knots. At 1625, the astern pitch on the starboard engine was increased to 70% and subsequently to 90%.

During the approach, the chief officer called out the vessel’s speed for the master twice and noted that the Spirit of British Columbia was resting against the wing wall to its port side, which indicated a northwesterly set in the vicinity of the terminal.

With the speed at 9 to 10 knots, the master ordered the helmsman to steer hard to port to control the bow. The vessel did not respond to the helm order, even after the ahead thrust on the port engine was increased, and the vessel continued moving forward towards the wall of berth 3.

At 1625, the master applied full astern on both engines and put the thrusters full to port in an attempt to avoid striking the wall. The vessel passed the outer dolphin at a speed of approximately 6.2 knots.

At 1626:10, the chief officer was instructed to let go the port anchor. The chief officer pressed the remote release button and, approximately 4 seconds later, reported that the port anchor was not releasing. He was subsequently instructed to release both anchors. He pressed the remote release buttons for both anchors, but neither anchor released.

At 1626:32, the vessel struck the concrete abutment on the wall of berth 3 at a speed of approximately 5.4 knots. The master stopped the engines and thrusters, and the crew conducted a damage assessment. Although no warning was broadcast to notify passengers about the impending striking, no injuries were reported immediately following the occurrence; the next day, 2 crew members and 1 passenger reported minor injuries.

The vessel sustained damage to the deck plate, rubbing strake, and the forepeak tank above the waterline. The concrete abutment of the berth wall was also damaged.


Key findings

The Spirit of Vancouver Island’s SMS was certified and audited by an approved authority. However, the investigation identified gaps in the effectiveness of safety management related to the guidance provided to crews regarding recommended vessel speeds and critical vessel operations (in this case, releasing an anchor), which was not well documented or understood by the crew,

...the report reads.


Actions taken

Following the occurrence, BC Ferries completed a site investigation report and the following safety actions were taken:

-A 2-hour review session with the bridge team was held that includeda review of the incident;

  • a review of the site investigation report, including root causes and recommendations;
  • a re-creation of the incident in the simulator and a review of the stages of the incident and lessons learned; and
  • a discussion of the findings as well as personal and institutional lessons learned from the incident.

-The anchor documentation and training manual were updated to clarify the anchor release method and all crews have been practicing proper stowage of the anchors on board Spirit-class vessels.

-The VSM was updated to include the major factors of a CDP in accordance with the fleet operations manual. Bridge teams have performed drills that address vessel speed and the elements of a CDP involving all bridge team members.

-Instructions on the remote release of the anchors were posted.


Safety messages

  • It is essential that bridge teams adhere to recommended speeds and guidance set out in a vessel’s SMS. Higher speeds, particularly during docking, can reduce the time available to respond to any changes in environmental factors and result in a loss of control over a vessel’s movements.
  • Clearly posted operating instructions, such as for the remote release of anchors, are essential to increase the likelihood that critical safety equipment will be operated successfully in emergency situations.


Explore more herebelow:

TSB report