Legal Wit — Elephant v Turtle

Legal Wit — Elephant v Turtle

This is a cautionary tale of an elephant and a turtle, in close quarter. It is not a fable but, unfortunately, a true tale. The elephant is a B.C. Ferry, the Spirit of British Columbia (SOBC). The turtle is a 38 foot sailboat, the Antares I. The close quarter is Active Pass, between Galiano and Mayne Islands, two of the Gulf Islands in the Salish Sea.

The facts in this case created the so-called perfect storm. The SOBC was proceeding at a significant speed through a twisting channel, with small vessels on the oncoming side not too far off the centre line. The Master is taken by surprise by a low-powered sailboat as the SOBC is about to make a 90° turn. Because there is no communication between the navigators of the two vessels, [the ferry captain] is left to guess what the sailboat will do, based on what he sees by its movements. The SOBC (the elephant) cannot maneuver quickly because of its speed, mass and lack of options to where it can move. The Antares I (the turtle) cannot maneuver quickly because of its lack of power and agility and the current and turbulence at Mary Anne Point.

R. v. Cowan |
2014 CarswellBC 4112 |
British Columbia Provincial Court
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