That sinking feeling

Image by  Becky Verbruggen/Global BC Graphics
Image by Becky Verbruggen/Global BC Graphics

Lilgert’s defense not going to sail

By Eric Wilkins, Staff Writer

It was March of 2006 when the Queen of the North sailed into Gil Island and sank, presumably resulting in the deaths of two passengers, Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette. Someone has to answer for their deaths, and with the trial of Karl Lilgert wrapping up, it looks as though justice may finally be served.

Lilgert’s only defence against the two charges of criminal negligence causing death that isn’t shot down immediately is the fact that the bodies of Foisy and Rosette were never recovered. There have been rumours that they made off on a fishing boat following the sinking, and others have suggested they may not have even been on the boat. But smokescreens aside, the two have been missing ever since the sinking, and coincidences like that generally aren’t coincidences at all.

Lilgert doesn’t have a case.

He’s tried to hide behind a lack of proper training, poor equipment, bad weather, and inadequate staffing policies, but all of these are dispatched quite easily. In the period from 1990 and 2006, Lilgert had sailed past Sainty Point 795 times. Granted, he wasn’t at the helm for all of those trips, but there should still be a strong familiarity with the area and the entire route. To say that he still wasn’t comfortable with his position after 16 years sounds a little outrageous. Even the most incompetent employee knows to ask for help or manages to get fired by that time if anything is still muddy.

The poor equipment and weather argument fails to hold water too. Records have shown that all of the equipment on board was functioning properly; Lilgert just failed to pay attention to it. As to the weather, Andrew Flotre, a seasoned veteran at piloting large ships up and down the coast, testified that strong winds and rain would have been unlikely to have altered the vessel’s route. Flotre also noted how Lilgert should have slowed the ship if conditions made visibility difficult. Lilgert proceeded at 18 knots for 12 straight minutes prior to the crash. No effort was made whatsoever to change course.

The final point about inadequate staffing has since been addressed by BC Ferries—with three crew members now required to be on the bridge at all times—but is irrelevant all the same. If Lilgert truly needed help, there was nothing preventing him from calling up another officer.

The persistent suggestion that Lilgert was engaged in sexual activities with crewmate and former lover, Karen Briker, appears to be the only logical explanation for the sinking, despite both parties denying it. With the ship’s equivalent of a “black box” showing zero course changes even during the collision with the island (Flotre noted that if Lilgert had tried to change course as the island loomed large, the hull would have been damaged along the side of the ship), it is obvious that something was distracting Lilgert from his duty. Whether that something was a heated argument—the pair had ended their affair some time before—or something more physical really doesn’t matter.

Lilgert clearly neglected his duty and if he isn’t deemed guilty for both charges, this case may become of a laughingstock.