Officials reveal how whale-watching boat in Canada capsized

The Leviathan II, a whale-watching boat off the coast of British Columbia, capsized near the resort town of Tofino, killing six of its 27 passengers in an October 2015 tragedy.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada revealed details on how the whale-watching boat overturned and issued guidance for tour operators on how to prevent future accidents.

Lead investigator Clinton Rebeiro said in a press conference Wednesday that the crew determined the weather conditions were acceptable, but once the boat was on the southeast side of Plover Reefs, it was in an area where conditions favored the formation of breaking waves, according to the BBC.

The whale-watching boat Leviathan II capsized, killing six of its 27 passengers. Photo: Courtesy of the Transportation Safety Board

Five Britons and one Australian died in the accident that was caused when a large, breaking wave hit the vessel from the side.

"The master and the deckhand heard a noise," Rebeiro said, according to the BBC. "The master reached for the throttles to turn the vessel and minimize the impact, but the wave struck Leviathan II's starboard quarter before his actions could be effective.

"It rose up, pivoting uncontrollably on the wave, leaving it bean on, or sideways, to the wave and thus vulnerable to capsizing."

Rebeiro explained that offshore waves travelling over a rising ocean floor and meeting opposing tides can cause waves to become higher or steeper and are "almost impossible to predict," the Vancouver Sun reported.

The 65-foot boat overturned, sending most of its occupants into the freezing water. None of the passengers were wearing lifejackets.

“There’s no doubt in this case that had the passengers been wearing life jackets or some sort of personal floatation device, it would definitely have helped many who struggled to stay afloat in the water and it might have prevented some of the fatalities,” TSB chair Kathy Fox said, according to the BBC.

In its report, the TSC issued three recommendations, as stated by the BBC:

  1. That tour vessel operators on the west coast of Vancouver Island take steps to identify when and where hazardous waves form and how to avoid them.

  2. That all commercial passenger vessels – about 4,000 nationwide – adopt explicit risk management processes, and that Transport Canada develop guidelines to better implement and oversee them.

  3. The mandatory carriage of emergency beacons so authorities are automatically alerted when vessels are in distress.

The Surrey Now-Leader reported that Jamie's Whaling Station, owner of the Leviathan II, released a statement noting it has implemented a variety of safety precautions and that it will take the TSB's recommendations seriously.

"Our thoughts continue to be with all of the families impacted by this tragedy," Jamie Bray, the company's owner, said in a videotaped response to the report. "That day reminded all of us just how unpredictable the ocean can be and the tragedy of October 2015 will never fade from our minds."

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