On August 2nd, 1970, a Soviet Union freighter collided with a BC Ferries passenger vessel that carried about 550 passengers, leaving a 35-foot gash in the side of the ferry. The accident left three people dead and at least six others injured, including two who were injured seriously.
George Hammond, a passenger on board the BC Ferries vessel at the time, described being on the vehicle deck and seeing his wife, 31-year-old Ann Hammond, and their infant son, disappear under a pile of cars as the freighter ripped through the ferry. Later, when he pulled his wife from the wreckage, he found that their son had been killed. Ann was rushed to hospital by coast guard hovercraft, but she died shortly thereafter. A teenager was also killed in the crash.
The incident took place on an 11:00 a.m. Sunday sailing on board the Queen of Victoria, travelling between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay, in a narrow stretch of water between Galiano and Mayne Islands known as Active Pass. The pass is only 400 metres wide at its narrowest and also has an infamous blind corner that makes it difficult to see other vessels before entering the channel.
Normally, ships entering the pass would have communicated with each other via radio to ensure safe waterways, but these two vessels appeared to be operating on different frequencies. The BC Ferries captain said he called in to announce his entry and asked if anyone else was in the channel, but he received no response. Only about one minute later, after he had entered the pass at full speed (15.5 knots), he saw the Soviet freighter, the Sergey Yesenin.
By this point the ships were only about a quarter of a mile apart, and despite efforts to reduce speed or steer away from each other they did not have sufficient time to avoid the collision. As a result, the Sergey Yesenin crashed into the side of the Queen of Victoria at roughly a 45-degree angle, nearly slicing the passenger ferry in two.
Following the collision, the vessels remained locked together for about two hours. The deaths constituted the BC Ferries company’s first fatalities.