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Judge accepts proposals on tug boat sinking that killed Delta man in northern B.C.

According to a joint proposal by Crown and defence, instead of paying fines to Worksafe BC, money totalling $310,000 will be paid towards marine safety programs
Charley Cragg, 25, from Tsawwassen, and tug master Troy Pearson, 58, were killed, while a third crew member survived. It was Cragg’s first day on the job. Optimist file Photo

Editor's note: This story has been edited with changes concerning the fines and how the court is imposing them.

A proposal to pay more than $300,000 for marine safety programs, has been tentatively OK’d in Prince Rupert Provincial Court in the case involving the Feb. 10, 2021 sinking of the tug Ingenika and the loss of two crew members, one of whom was from Tsawwassen.

James Geoffrey Bates in August pleaded guilty to a Workers Compensation Act violation for failing to provide training and supervision to ensure the safety of the workers. Seven other charges were stayed.

Crew member Charley Cragg, 25, from Tsawwassen, and tug master Troy Pearson, 58, were killed, while a third crew member survived. It was Cragg’s first day on the job.

Bates’s company, Wainwright Marine Services, also pleaded guilty to three other counts under the Workers Compensation Act, of failing to ensure the health and safety of workers, failing to provide safety training and failing to provide safety training on using immersion suits.

According to a joint submission by Crown and defence, instead of paying fines to Worksafe BC, money totalling $310,000 will be paid towards marine safety programs. The Crown proposed the company pay $295,000 and for Bates to pay $15,000.

“Instead of just fines, we’re doing something unique for cases like this in B.C. Crown and defence are working collaboratively to find ways to put this money towards preventing similar incidents,” said lawyer Graeme Hooper, counsel for Bates and Wainwright Marine.

Judge N. Purewal accepted the amounts in her decision Sept. 21.

However, the sentencing hearing was adjourned, but should go back to court in January where the judge will hear what is being proposed for the funds and issue a sentencing order.

“It goes without saying that the incident on Feb. 10, 2021, was a tragedy in which two men lost their lives and left behind families who loved them and who are clearly dealing with unspeakable pain and loss,” Purewal said. 

She noted the victim impact statements were “heartfelt and important,” in explaining who Charley and Troy were and how much they meant to those they left behind.

The tug boat on that night, with three crew members on board, was towing the loaded barge Miller 204 in the Gardner Canal when the tug sank, about 16 nautical miles southwest of Kemano Bay, near Kitimat, in stormy waters. According to a Transportation Safety Board news release from last March, bad weather impacted the tug’s ability to tow and maintain speed, and led to the vessel taking on water.

The master and the two deckhands were able to exit the sinking vessel; however, only one was able to swim and climb aboard the life raft. Search and rescue resources located the sole surviving crew member on land 10 hours later. The bodies of the master and second deckhand were also recovered.

The judge noted that Bates has been in the marine industry since his youth and had worked in the Howe Sound area and had only recently acquired Wainwright Marine Services. At the time, he was not running the day-to-day operations and was still living in Vancouver and had never been to Kemano before the incident.

At the time, Bates was balancing the “legally recognized responsibility of (ship) masters to make certain decisions, with that of him being an owner and he clearly did not get the balance right on that date,” Purewal said.

As well, both Wainwright Marine and Bates agree that they had no systems in place to conduct safety training and there was nothing in place to check if training was being updated and if new hires were following protocols, the judge noted.

And while Bates had only owned the company for six months, such problems clearly existed beforehand, however he didn’t take steps to prioritize safety when he took over the company, Purewal added.  However, since then, Wainwright Marine and Bates have taken responsibility and taken steps to address safety issues, the judge noted.

Purewal also said Bates expressed remorse for his actions, pleaded guilty early, had no prior record, there was no profit motive and honestly thought he was doing the right thing that night. Counsel submitted that “the decision to sail was based on a misguided, but established practice to defer to a master,” the judge said earlier.

“He said a day never goes by that he doesn’t think of that night,” the judge said.

She noted that the Workers Compensation Act was intended to protect the public, including employees, from harm and that Bates has agreed to do 100 hours of community service because it’s meaningful to the families, even though he could pay the fine.

Last March, in a report on the incident, the Transportation Safety Board issued several recommendations aimed at enhancing the safety of smaller tugs.

Charley’s mom, Genevieve Cragg, said in an interview with the Optimist she was hoping that Bates would spend a weekend in jail.

“Because, to me, $310,000 and 100 hours of service work, doesn’t send a message, but that’s it, for my son’s life,” Genevieve said.

The decision would have been different if the two had been passengers on a ship, she said.

Even though the case is over, there’s no closure. 

“I’m a different person. I’ve been re-inventing myself. There’s never closure. It’s not like my pain goes away,” she said.

Her world gets bigger but the size of her pain doesn’t become smaller, she added.  It’s been really difficult for Charley’s brother, Max, she said.

She said Charley was well-known in the community and graduated from South Delta Secondary. A tree and bench in his honour will be installed soon near Beach Grove Elementary.

“Everybody knew Charley,” she said.