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Report Says Ferries Going To Pot


420 Staff
Crew Of Doomed Queen Of The North Routinely Smoked Marijuana

The Transportation Safety Board says pot-smoking ferry crew -- who still smoke marijuana between shifts "to this day" -- may one day cause a serious accident.

The board says B.C. Ferries failed to effectively enforce its zero-tolerance drug policy aboard the ill-fated Queen of the North, and wants the problem fixed.

Company president David Hahn says having a drug policy doesn't go far enough. He wants the board's final report on the sinking of Queen of the North in 2006 to recommend mandatory drug testing of employees, which is not legally permitted in Canada.

He says he's willing to be tested as often as required -- and to require the same of all managers in safety-sensitive positions.

As part of its investigation of the sinking of the Queen of the North in March of 2006, the federal Transportation Safety Board issued a letter yesterday about how effectively B.C. Ferries enforces its two-year-old "zero-tolerance" drug policy.

It said there was "no evidence that the performance of either the fourth officer or the quartermaster on the bridge that night [of the sinking] was impaired."

But it said there was evidence that crew routinely smoked cannabis between shifts on the liveaboard ferry and that senior officers routinely failed to enforce the company policy barring the practice.

The Canadian Coast Guard has the right to test ferry crew following marine accidents, but no tests were done on the 42 crew who escaped the sunken ferry.

Hahn said the company wanted testing done after the sinking.

He said the company has dismissed employees for drug or alcohol use, although he declined to say how many, and that others who admitted to problems were offered treatment.

Hahn -- who is from the U.S., where mandatory testing is permitted -- conceded that testing for cannabis has been rejected in Canada because results show only past use, generally going back about a month, and not impairment at the time of testing.

John Cottreau, the board's spokesman, said yesterday that information about cannabis use by crew on board the Queen of the North was brought to the board's attention early this summer.

Subsequent interviews revealed "a pattern" of crew use of cannabis "and we have every reason to believe the practice continues to this day," he said.

The TSB's letter, addressed to Hahn and the federal transport minister, says:

- - The company has a zero-tolerance for drugs and alcohol and a rule banning both from live-aboard vessels such as the Queen of the North, but crew were regularly using cannabis anyway, insufficiently aware it could affect their fitness on later shifts or during off hours if an emergency arose. And not all senior crew members aboard the ferry "consistently took sufficient action to ensure the company's no-tolerance policy was strictly adhered to."

- - Use of cannabis by crews creates an "unsafe condition, one that could lead to a serious accident."

Jackie Miller, president of the ferry workers' union, said the union opposes mandatory testing but does not condone drug use on the job. She said she was personally unaware of cannabis use by crew on the northern ferry and that the issue had never been brought to the joint safety committee.

She also said that while drug and alcohol use by crew likely reflected their use in the general community, she wanted to see more focus on all factors that impair crew performance -- including fatigue caused by shift work, a problem acknowledged internationally as a major factor in maritime accidents.

Premier Gordon Campbell said yesterday that "the [drug] problem is a real one." He said B.C. would work with Ottawa, which has jurisdiction over ferries.


- - Canadian courts have rejected mandatory testing for cannabis use because current tests indicate only that the drug has been used in the recent past, not that performance is impaired at the time of testing ( as in the case of breathalyzer testing for blood-alcohol levels ).

- - Critics argue that because cannabis takes so long to clear the body, mandatory testing promotes use of drugs such as cocaine that are passed by the body more quickly.

- - The coast guard and police can administer drug tests after marine accidents. They did not do so after the Queen of the North sank with the loss of two lives. Commercial companies, including Seaspan International, test their employees after accidents, with the union's agreement.

- - In the U.S., marine operators are allowed to do mandatory and random drug testing. Both Washington and Alaska state ferries do so, although their unions argue that after an initial weeding out of a small number of crew, random tests waste money by unnecessarily testing a set quota of workers who are of no concern.

Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 The Province
Contact: provletters@png.canwest.com
Website: The Province
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