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Two years on from the sinking of the Ingenika and tragic loss of two of the mariners onboard, cost pressures are still putting tug crews’ lives in danger, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has warned – will we never learn?
This week, eight charges were filed against Wainwright Marine Services Ltd and its director James Geoffrey Bates over the sinking of the tug MV Ingenika almost two years ago to the day – on 11 February 2021.
At the second anniversary of the tragic deaths of Troy Pearson and Charley Cragg onboard Wainwright’s vessel, Troy and Charely’s families say this is not enough.
The mariners were sent out in their tug, too small for the hurricane-force gales that were howling in the winter conditions, wiping up the waves to dangerous levels.
That day the Canal was full of blistering, ice-cold winds with gusts of more than 70 knots per hour blowing through the notorious Gardner Canal, where surface temperatures were below negative 20 degrees Celsius.
Despite these potentially deadly conditions, the employers of Troy and Charley made the ill-fated decision to send these men to work that day, on an undersized tug, not fit for the weather conditions.
The Ingenika was towing a barge, itself heavily weighed down with equipment bound for Rio Tinto’s Kemano Generating Station. The factors combined to overwhelm the Ingenika and its barge sank, the crew and their vessel were pulled under along with it.
An experienced captain, Troy Pearson, aged 58-, and 25-year-old deckhand, Charley Cragg, died. A third crew member, 19-year-old Zac Dolan, was rescued after washing ashore.
Courts will now consider whether offences occurred when the management of Wainwright Marine directed the crew to work that day.
ITF still mourns loss of mariners
“We were deeply saddened by the news two years ago of the events of that fateful morning in Canada. This story, when you hear it, it is still shocking. Our most sincere condolences remain with the families of Troy and Charley,” said Yury Sukhorukov, ITF Inland Navigation Section chair. “The whole of the ITF family feels their heartbreak and mourns with them.”
“Every time we remind ourselves of the loss of these men’s lives, which we do quite often at the ITF, my eyes become pools of water. Genuinely, it upsets me. And it still makes me angry. Why? Why these workers? Why do any of us have to die – it is just a job, after all. We go there to make a living, not to die.”
In 2022, the ITF worked with affiliate ILWU Canada and the widow of Troy Pearson, Judy Pearson-Garick, to produce a short film on the sinking, highlighting the importance of greater enforcement of Canada’s existing safety regulations. ILWU Canada and SIU Canada are pushing for better enforcement of safety standards for small tugboats.
“It was Charley’s first day on the job,” said Fabrizio Barcellona, ITF Inland Navigation Section Coordinator. “He must have been terrified heading out in those conditions.”
If convicted the defendants face a maximum penalty of $777,000 CAD ($575,000 USD) and up to six months in jail. The families of the two men insist this is not enough to deter multimillion dollar businesses from cutting corners on safety in the future.
“It is unforgivable of Wainwright Marine to have made the choice to put money before human lives and send this crew to work in such appalling conditions,” said Barcellona. “We must demand justice for tug workers the world over, and learn lessons so that no other family has to go through this kind of trauma.”
“ITF affiliate ILWU Canada has stood by Charley’s and Troy’s families from the moment this tragedy ripped apart their lives and their hearts,” he went on. “We commend the work of all our Canadian maritime affiliated unions to continue the fight for the memory of Charley and Troy: for a future where families can send their loved ones to work on the water without fear that today’s voyage might be their last.”
Tug crew under more pressure globally
Sukhorukov said that regulators and the major companies who contract tugboat services needed to learn from the tragedy.
“We still have tug operators demanding that crews go out in extreme weather, work long hours, denying them the rest that they need to be alert and safe. But to stop this race to the bottom, we need as our allies the big companies, the clients of tug operators, to raise their concerns with what is happening.”
“Preventing other workers from being ripped from their families, as Troy and Charley were, will require companies like Rio Tinto to ask what is being done in their name, in their supply chain, effectively – on their watch,” said the Inland Navigation Section chair.