VANCOUVER – A senior BC Ferries officer spent about five hours consoling the two crew members who were alone together on the bridge of the Queen of the North when it slammed into an island before sinking, a B.C. Supreme Court heard on Wednesday.
First Officer Richard St. Pierre testified he gave kind words and said “everything is going to be OK” to the officer in charge of navigation, Karl Lilgert, and quartermaster, Karen Bricker, while the three were in a room on a rescue vessel in the hours following the marine disaster.
Lilgert was the forth officer on the ship the night of March 22, 2006, and is now on trial for criminal negligence causing the deaths of two passengers who were never seen again.
“He said he’d altered the ship (course) for a fishing vessel,” St. Pierre recalled of the brief explanation Lilgert gave him while he was in the room with Karen Bricker.
The trial heard earlier that Lilgert and Bricker were in a relationship, but had broken up about two weeks before working alone together that night — the first time since the affair ended.
“I advised him that he didn’t have to tell me anything, because I was also the union rep at the time,” St. Pierre said.
Most of the crew had been taken to safety aboard another ship, the Sir Wilfrid Laurier, while some of the 99 survivors were also moved by local First Nations people to a nearby village.
St. Pierre recalled the two were both quite upset, but the only physical contact between the pair was “at most, maybe a hand on the shoulder.”
He said he stayed with the pair for all but about 10 to 15 minutes — when he went to get some Tylenol — during the hours after the sinking, and that not much else happened.
“He was under a lot of stress, a lot of duress at the time. Waves of heavy emotion,” St. Pierre said of Lilgert while being examined by the Crown.
He told court that he had been asleep when the crash occurred just after midnight, having worked the day shift.
But his memory wasn’t completely intact, he noted, because the incident happened seven years ago.
St. Pierre also told court that while the crew had tried to ensure everyone had been rescued, they “kept losing head count” while aboard the lifeboats.
When asked by the coast guard if they had accounted for all the people who had been aboard the vessel, St. Pierre responded back over radio that they “hadn’t established a number yet.”
The bodies of passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette were never recovered. They were presumed drowned.
Earlier in the day, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein discharged a juror from duty. The person became the second juror to leave in the midst of proceedings that are expected to last until the summer.
Stromberg-Stein told the remaining jurors the reasons for the dismissal weren’t important.
“A matter has arisen, a juror has been excused for personal reasons,” she said.
The trial is the first in B.C. Supreme Court where a jury of 14 was initially selected, based on changes to federal law aimed at ensuring long trials will not be disrupted.
Another juror was released earlier in proceedings, which began in mid-January, leaving 12 people left to serve.
The jury can drop as low as 10 people before a potential mistrial.
It is the first time a trial in B.C. has used additional jurors, since the law was passed in 2011.
The Crown is arguing Lilgert failed to perform his duties to navigate the ship and maintain proper course.
Court has heard the ship travelled in a straight line for more than 20 minutes before hitting Gil Island, which could have been avoided with a “routine” turn.
The defence is arguing Lilgert was a trained mariner who was working with inadequate navigation equipment and under poorly-crafted BC Ferries policies.
The crash occurred on a regular route from Prince Rupert, B.C., to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Lilgert was the second officer.