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Tour operator adds redundancy after boat loses power, drags anchor

Dec 1, 2017 11:32 AM

Even though all passengers were safely evacuated when a dinner cruise vessel lost power in high winds and nearly grounded in Halifax Harbor, the CEO of the tour company said a valuable lesson was learned in how to improve safety.

Harbour Queen I, a 72-foot Mississippi River-style sternwheeler owned by Murphy’s the Cable Wharf of Halifax, Nova Scotia, had more than 30 passengers on board Sept. 3 when it lost propulsion due to a fuel problem. The vessel dropped anchor, but with rising winds it drifted and approached the rocks at Point Pleasant Park.

The tour company dispatched a second vessel, Peggy’s Cove Express, which disembarked the passengers. The tugboats Atlantic Oak and Halifax Tugger were called to retrieve Harbour Queen I and it was towed to the Murphy’s the Cable Wharf dock.

Company CEO Dennis Campbell said that as a result of the incident, the operator will be introducing extra redundancy in its safety equipment.

“It was an unfortunate circumstance. It had us extremely concerned,” Campbell told Professional Mariner. “We look back at it as a wonderful gift. While we met all the regulations and our team did handle the situation very well, as we shone the spotlight on the incident it helped us to see that there is more redundancy necessary to go beyond just meeting the standards on various aspects.”

Campbell said that even though Harbour Queen I had an anchor of the correct size and enough anchor line, it was not adequate.

“We went out in winds that were acceptable but close to the limit, and the anchor did not hold the vessel in place when we lost power,” he said.

Campbell said the captain thought the anchor was holding and realized the vessel was drifting to shore.

The crew was able to throw a line to fishermen on shore who caught it and secured it to keep the vessel from going aground.

“I said to our team that the aviation industry thrives on the fact that it has complete redundancy,” Campbell said. “Meeting the (safety) standards in the business we are in is not enough. We have to exceed them.”

As a result, Campbell said Harbour Queen I will get a larger anchor and all vessels in the company’s 11-boat fleet will have an extra anchor and extra anchor line.

Other improvements being planned are to have a second VHF radio as backup on the bridge of each vessel, and installing direct communications between the engine room and the bridge.

“There was a challenge figuring out what was going on between the engine room and the bridge,” Campbell said. “We want to do everything we can do to ensure we have communication and backup communication and redundancy in every way we can.”

The Murphy’s the Cable Wharf fleet includes the tugboat Theodore Tugboat, the 130-foot schooner Silva and several other vessels used for deep-sea fishing and whale watching.

The company also owns and operates several former U.S. military LARC-V aluminum-hulled amphibious cargo vehicles known as “harbor hoppers.”

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