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Ferry's emergency lighting appears substandard: Coons

A BC Ferries vessel appears to be using glow sticks and flashlights for emergency lighting, contrary to federal regulations, NDP ferry critic Gary Coons wrote in a letter to Transportation Minister Shirley Bond.

"It has been brought to my attention that the emergency lighting in parts of the BC Ferry ship may not meet federal safety standards," Coons wrote in the Feb. 17 letter. "Has BC Ferries received exclusions which allow for glow sticks, stick-on push button LED lights and flashlights?"

Coons included photos from the Queen of Burnaby, a vessel used on the Powell River to Comox route, showing the lighting.

He cited the federal regulation: "All passenger public spaces and alleyways shall be provided with supplementary electric lighting that can operate for at least three hours when all other sources of electric power have failed."

Inspectors can also accept "any other means of lighting which is at least as effective."

"The Queen of Burnaby has a fully compliant certificate with no exceptions as referenced by Mr. Coons," BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said in an email. "It meets Transport Canada regulations. The ship has an IMO approved emergency lighting system run off an emergency generator and a UPS battery system as a back-up."

Asked about the photos, she said she had not seen them. After The Tyee forwarded three of them to her, she wrote, "It appears these lights are for convenience. They are in no way part of, or replacing the emergency lighting system."

A source familiar with the vessel said that while there are proper emergency lights on the outside decks, there are not in the two areas used in emergency evacuations.

BC Ferries is a publicly-owned private company. A Transportation and Infrastructure ministry spokesperson said the government would make a statement but it was not ready by publication time. Nor was Transport Canada ready to give a response on short notice.

Despite safety concerns raised after the sinking of the Queen of the North and other incidents, BC Ferries under the leadership of President and CEO David Hahn appears to want to keep vessels running despite serious safety concerns, Coons said in an email to The Tyee.

"This is very concerning," he wrote. "What has the CEO and this government learned from previous incidents? Are glowsticks and stick-on LEDs part and parcel of the new safety culture developed by our million dollar man?"

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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