Minister says ferries on maintenance management system

Barb Sweet
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All but one ferry in the province has been hooked up to an electronic maintenance management system, Transportation and Works Minister Paul Davis said Wednesday.

The Bell Island ferry M/V Beaumont Hamel sits docked at the ferry wharf in Portugal Cove recently.
— Telegram file photo

The ferry left out of the system is the swing vessel Sound of Islay.

Davis was responding Wednesday to the report by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), which investigated the May 2012 crashing of the Beaumont Hamel ferry into the dock at Portugal Cove.

The TSB found recurring electrical problems caused the Beaumont Hamel ferry to strike the dock, but its report also contained scathing concerns about provincial ferry operations, from the under-reporting of incidents to crew fatigue and the lack of internal safety investigations.

 It also flagged  the government-run ferry service for limited maintenance tracking and limited management of maintenance for the aging fleet.

When the Beaumont Hamel struck the wharf that day, there was an electrical contractor on board to deal with a generator problem, as the decision was made to keep to the schedule.

The TSB said there must be strategies to weigh safety with the pressure from the public to stay on schedule.

And when the TSB delved into the Beaumont Hamel’s troubles, it also raised alarms about crew fatigue on the demanding run — the vessel wasn’t built with the intent of having crew sleep on board.

Davis, who was travelling to Winnipeg Tuesday when the TSB report was released, said when the vessel goes in for its 2014 refit, the accommodations will be upgraded.

He also said the department will be talking to ferry user groups around the province to gauge which crossings are the most important so it can better manage regular maintenance.

While the Beaumont Hamel had a history of electrical blackouts, Davis said when problems occurred in the past, it was believed subsequent repairs had solved them.

“I am told the loss of power on systems like this is not unusual. It happens from time to time,” Davis said, adding the province is well aware the runs need to be safe.

As for the findings about under-reporting of incidents, Davis said there’s recently a new assistant deputy minister in charge of the marine branch, a former captain and the department is working on  a clear line of communication and responsibility in the system.

He said the department will also ensure that internal safety investigations are conducted when incidents occur.

Davis said managing demand and need for maintenance and crew downtime is challenging.

For example, he noted this summer’s incident on Fogo Island when the captain made the decisions to shut down the ferry for the night to give the crew rest, leading to an outcry from the public.

He said the captain has the last say.

“We stand by the captain,” he said. “It was the right decision to make.”

Earlier this year, the morning crossing on the Bell Island ferry was delayed because the crew had to do a medical evacuation on the island overnight and needed rest.

Davis said it was a “volatile situation” that prompted the department to call the RCMP to the wharf to ensure orderly loading of the vessel because of the stress on the commuter traffic.

Davis said the only way to offset those situations is to have a standby vessel in every port.

But he said the province is making progress on its ferry replacement strategy.

The province is close to selecting a shipyard to build a replacement vessel for the Earl Winsor, which operates on the Fogo Island run. Fifteen ship yards around the world bid on the work. It will take 18-24 months to construct the ship. The request for proposals also included a second new vessel.

“We’re down to short strokes,” Davis said.

Organizations: Transportation Safety Board, Portugal Cove.The TSB, RCMP

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Fogo Island, Bell Island

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Recent comments

  • California Pete from NFLD
    September 26, 2013 - 11:57

    Oh wow arn't we bright. Have a nice safe dry trip

  • Ken Collis
    September 26, 2013 - 07:51

    I think the correct decision is being made with respect to maintenance. Having a plan to track maintenance and actions to correct them is important. I do disagree that the only way to provide service after an emergency trip is to have a swing vessel in each port. Having a licensed officer besides the Capt. on board would allow the rest of the crew to arrange their hours of work and rest to still provide scheduled service.