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Former BC Ferries vessel mysteriously moored in Howe Sound

Since early November, the former Queen of Tsawwassen — one of two original BC Ferries vessels — has been moored off of Gambier Island. But who owns the boat and why it's there remains a mystery.
The Inlet Explorer, formerly known as the Queen of Tsawwassen and one of BC Ferries’ two original vessels.

One of BC Ferries’ original vessels — Queen of Tsawwassen — is earning a notorious reputation these days: rusted marine mystery of Howe Sound. 

Nearby residents have observed the 98-metre (320 ft.) steel-hulled former car and passenger ferry swinging wide from its mooring in Andy’s Bay, near Mariner’s Rest, off Gambier Island since early November, after being towed down Georgia Strait, according to one resident. 

The 5,972 gross-tonnage vessel is moored in close proximity to a glass sponge reef, federally-protected from fishing activities. 

Area F director Kate-Louise Stamford, who is also a Gambier Island resident, told Coast Reporter there is “nothing definite” about ownership. “There have certainly been complaints and I continue to follow up,” she said in a Dec. 13 email. 

“As with earlier instances of derelict ferries moored in Howe Sound, if they are not in the way of navigation, actively leaking, or an immediate danger to people, then it can be a challenge to get them removed,” said Stamford. She has directed people to report concerns to the Canadian Coast Guard. 

In an email to Coast Reporter, the Canadian Coast Guard said it’s aware of the vessel, and confirmed it’s the former Queen of Tsawwassen but no recent reports have been received. The Coast Guard has not inspected the vessel, and said it would respond to reports of pollution. 

The responsibility of vessels “lies with the registered owner,” said the federal agency, and under the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, owners are prohibited from allowing a vessel to become a wreck by failing to maintain it. 

Croman Corporation, an aerial services company with a helicopter fleet, based in White City, OR, is listed as the owner on Transport Canada’s vessel registration query system, however, the company said in a Dec. 12 email “it was sold last month,” through Iron Planet, an online marketplace for heavy equipment. 

It was kept at Bonwick Island in the Broughton Archipelago, and most inventory was sold within the last three months, according to a Croman spokesperson.

Sales data from Iron Planet show the winning bid for the vessel, now named Inlet Explorer and listed as a barge moored in Campbell River, was made in September for $180,000. The B.C.-based bidder is unnamed.

Jordan Elliot, president of the joint venture Avix and Marine Recycling Corporation, which is establishing a shipbreaking site at Hillside Industrial Park in Port Mellon, said the company has no connection to the vessel.

Heavy-lift company Helifor, which also operates a fleet of helicopters, is listed by nauticapedia as the owner from 2012 to 2017. According to BC Ferries’ spokesperson Deborah Marshall, Helifor purchased the vessel in 2008.

In 2013 Inlet Explorer was sighted in Toba Inlet where it was used as part of a logging camp. 

A spokesperson with Mirax Lumber Products, which owns Avalon dryland log sort in Port Mellon, said the company is aware of the Inlet Explorer but it was not purchased by the company and isn’t headed for the log sort.

In a sales advertisement supplied to Coast Reporter by Croman, the vessel is promoted as “available for the LNG project,” and has been repurposed as housing quarters, with 50 state rooms built on the passenger deck, along with common seating areas, washrooms, showers and laundry facilities, as well as a foosball table. It also has a desalination plant and “a contained waste system.”

The vessel must be moved by tugboat because the original engines, while still in place, “are not used,” said the advertisement.

A spokesperson with Woodfibre LNG in Squamish told Coast Reporter the vessel has “no association,” with their project.

Inlet Explorer has a storied history. It was the first ferry built for the British Columbia Ferry Corporation, alongside sister ship, Queen of Sidney — the two ferries in the corporation’s Sidney Class. 

Their first voyage took them from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay on June 15, 1960. In the 1970s and early 1980s Queen of Tsawwassen also serviced Route 3, between Horseshoe Bay and Langdale. And between Saltery Bay and Earls Cove in the late 1990s, according to a Canadian public transportation discussion site

Laid down in 1959 and completed in 1960 by the Burrard Dry Dock shipbuilding company in North Vancouver, the vessel, which has a car capacity of 138, was kept in use by BC Ferries until 2007.

The Queen of Sidney was retired in 2000 and sits at a shipyard in Mission, B.C. and has been used as a filming location, including for the X-Files television series. 

Rising waters in the Fraser River have elevated concerns the Queen of Sidney and other “abandoned” ferries and ships could potentially break free of their moorings.

SCRD director Stamford said “it would be worth BC Ferries revisiting their policy of selling off old ferries without regards to their long-term impact on local communities.”

As for its current location, Transport Canada said it is “not aware of regulations prohibiting anchoring in Andy’s Bay off Gambier Island.”

With files from Lindsay William-Ross, Vancouver Is Awesome