HARTLEY BAY, British Columbia - Two passengers remained unaccounted for Thursday, a day after the ferry Queen of the North sank near this remote Inside Passage town, the head of B.C. Ferries said.
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B.C. Ferries President David Hahn said Thursday that hope began fading when reports that passengers Gerald Foisy, 44, and Shirley Rosette, 43, were seen among rescued passengers turned out to be false.
"They're likely on the ship," he said. "I would prefer that we're sitting here 12 hours from now and they turn up somewhere. I'd be thrilled. I think everybody would.
"(But) I don't have data that steers me to another point. I don't like it. It's a bad scenario."
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constable Alain Beaulieu said an investigation was under way and authorities have not ruled out other possibilities, including that the two may be traveling home to 100 Mile House, British Columbia, from Hartley Bay.
But relatives said they had not heard from them, and B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said the fact that the pair were still missing is "obviously deeply troubling," and that "it sounds like hopes are diminishing" the two would be found alive.
Alaska offers ferry stop to help British Columbia
Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski has offered to help British Columbia cope with a provincial ferry sinking by adding a Canadian stop to one of Alaska's ferry routes.
The governor announced Thursday that he would send the ferry Matanuska to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, during its travels from Bellingham, Wash., to Alaska ports. The Queen of the North, a Canadian ferry that sank on Wednesday, served Prince Rupert from Port Hardy, a Vancouver Island city. Vancouver Island has shuttle service to Bellingham.
"The sinking of the Queen of the North is obviously a terrible tragedy and will no doubt represent a disruption of service for a region that is just as dependent on ferries for travel as are some parts of coastal Alaska," Murkowski said. "In the spirit of friendship, we have offered our neighbors what assistance is available from Alaska."
After striking a rock shortly after midnight Wednesday, the 409-foot Queen of the North sank about an hour after its 101 passengers and crew began taking to the lifeboats. They withstood 45 mph winds and choppy seas until they were rescued by the Canadian coast guard and residents of this coastal village, home of the Gitk'a'ata Tribe.
Initial reports were that all passengers and crew had made it to Hartley Bay, about 612 miles northwest of the wreck site, or were picked up by the coast guard icebreaker Sir Wilfred Laurier.
But the numbers fluctuated from 99 to 102, partly because B.C. Ferries had no firm idea who was actually boarded after buying a ticket, Hahn said.
Foisy's brother, George Foisy, said he saw the couple off when they boarded the Queen of the North at Prince Rupert on Thursday evening. The ferry was on its regularly scheduled overnight trip to Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, when it sank off Gil Island in Wright Sound. The area is about 80 miles south of Prince Rupert and about 580 miles northwest of Seattle.
Hahn said B.C. Ferries contacted the couple's relatives and police were still checking Hartley Bay, But he said there was no sign they were ever there.
Eileen Rosette, 46, of Williams Lake, British Columbia, said she was still holding out hope for her cousin Shirley.
"It's been really difficult for us here," she said.
She said her cousin, who has two teenage sons, had been living with Foisy for about two years.
Hahn refused to blame any mix up on the ferry's crew, which was praised by passengers for the cool way they handled the evacuation.
"I know that they specifically went through and knocked on every door," he said. "Did they go through and open each and every cabin door? I don't know the answer to that yet and won't do until they do all the interviews."
Other passengers told of being hustled out of their cabins by crew members and helped into lifejackets.
Hahn said it was hard to imagine Foisy and Rosette could have slept through the crisis - alarms ringing, the ship listing on its side and the sound of water rushing into the vessel through a large gash in its bottom.
The ferry sank in approximately 1,100 feet of water. There was no immediate indication of how the ferry, which can carry up to 700 passengers, ended up striking a rock in a well-charted channel it traveled regularly.
"There was any number of different radars, GPS, electronic charting systems, everything," Hahn said.
A 212-mile-long oil slick had spread from the sunken ferry by Thursday afternoon, said Don Rodden, superintendent of Canadian coast guard's environmental response unit. The vessel had 57,200 gallons of No. 2 diesel on board, as well as 5,200 gallons of light oil and about 57 gallons of hydraulic oil.
Winds prevented any oil recovery Thursday, although protective booms have been placed along two sensitive shorelines, where Indians harvest clams and mussels.
Rodden said no birds had been seen in the area since the accident and he did not know of any other immediate environmental impacts.