According to Bell Island resident Kelly Russell, the only warning passengers aboard the Beaumont Hamel ferry had Wednesday morning that the vessel had lost power and was going to hit the dock was from a student passenger.
Russell, who had family members on the vessel at the time, said the student warned others to brace themselves, that the ferry was going to hit.
Russell sent an email to media this morning expressing his concerns about the incident.
He also said two students were diagnosed with concussions at the hospital on Bell Island Wednesday night. Another student was examined at hospital Wednesday and released.
It should be investigated, noted Russell, why the Beaumont Hamel was unable to drop anchor and how the vessel passed its latest inspection.
A student was examined in hospital and released, but no one was seriously injured when the MV Beaumont Hamel collided with the dock in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s Wednesday morning.
However, the ferry took a shot in the visor, the section of the bow that rises for cars and trucks to board. It sustained a large dent.
Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson said preliminary reports indicate a mechanical issue caused the ferry to lose reverse propulsion.
“That prevented the boat from slowing down properly,” he told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
Provincial and federal transportation officials have begun an investigation.
The Beaumont Hamel will now be out of commission until the visor is fixed and the cause of the mishap is determined.
It was only put back on the Bell Island run a few days ago. It had been out of service for repairs to a leaky thruster seal. Hedderson said the 27-year-old ferry had passed inspection before it went back on The Tickle.
Flanders called into service
“So there were no known issues with the vessel when it sailed today,” he said.
The MV Flanders, which had been off-line for minor repairs, was promptly put back into the service Wednesday afternoon.
Hedderson spoke with the media in the early afternoon. At the time, he said there were no injuries, that everyone got off the ferry and went about their business.
However, later in the day, the Eastern School District confirmed a student from St. Michael’s High School on Bell Island had been examined in hospital and released.
A source said there were 25 students from the school on the Beaumont Hamel at the time, as well as 20 exchange students from Ontario.
The ferry struck the dock around 10 a.m. and was about a boat length away at the time.
Hedderson and area MHA David Brazil, who also addressed the media, lauded the crew’s handling of the collision.
The visor was up when propulsion was lost. The workers quickly lowered it, further protecting passengers and vehicles. They also got the anchor in the water quickly, which helped slow the ship down.
“The crew did yeoman service in reacting in that minute before the actual (impact),” Hedderson said, adding if the visor were up when the ship struck, the damage would have been significant.
Bell Island resident Bill Hunt was in the ferry lineup to go home Wednesday morning as investigators had the Beaumont Hamel barred off.
He said he’s been on the vessel when similar things have happened.
It shouldn’t be on the run, he said.
“She blacks out,” Hunt said, sitting in the cab of his pickup. “We’ve been out there, I’d say seven or eight times, and she just automatically shuts down.”
He said the boats are obsolete and he wants the province to do something about it.
“Kathy Dunderdale, all I hear is Muskrat Falls, when there’s more things in Newfoundland that needs to be done. ... She’s not paying attention to what needs to be done.”
The Beaumont Hamel’s bang-up was raised on the floor of the House of Assembly, too.
NDP critic George Murphy said the incident raises questions, and he asked Hedderson if provincial ferries have voyage data recorders, as recommended by Transport Canada in 2008.
The minister replied that everything has been done to make sure that those ferries are safe.
Murphy also questioned Hedderson on the plan for replacing Bell Island’s ferries.
Hedderson recapped what occurred, but didn’t provide details on vessel replacement.
He told journalists the province would consider new ferries for Bell Island run after it replaces the MV Capt. Earl W. Windsor, on the Change Islands-Fogo Island run.
Hedderson said he thinks the Beaumont Hamel and its sister ships are serving the province well.