A collision with a dock is the latest incident in a dismal year for Quebec's ferry corporation

·3 min read

Considered in isolation, the Saaremaa I crunching its prow on the Godbout ferry dock is simply a mishap. Accidents happen.

Unfortunately, it isn't an isolated incident. In fact, it's only the latest in a dizzying litany of misadventures to befall the Société des traversiers du Québec (STQ) in the last few years.

That's not including the hole the drop in business from the COVID-19 pandemic has blown in its balance sheet. In August, the STQ reported a historic decline in users from May to June.

Let's recap: at around 10 a.m. on Friday, the Saaremaa I arrived at its port of call in Godbout, Que., after completing the crossing from Matane.

It wasn't a soft docking, according to witnesses.

"At the speed it was going, it's surprising to me there was so little damage. It whacked the dock pretty hard," Jean-Marc Élement, a truck driver who was waiting on the dock to make the return trip, told Radio-Canada.

A passenger on the ship reported hearing a series of loud tapping sounds before the ship hit.

"It all happened fast," the passenger said.

It's not the first collision in Godbout

The crossing is a key transit link for the North Shore. Indeed the STQ's operations are depended upon in many outlying parts of Eastern Quebec.

An investigation has been launched into the accident and the STQ is reserving comment for now.

It's not the first time the ship has slammed into the Godbout dock.

The same thing happened in September of 2019, prompting a short-term closure of the boarding ramp.

The Saaremmawas acquired earlier in 2019 to replace the M.V. Apollo, which had been bought from Newfoundland in December of 2018 for $2.1 million as a replacement ship for the F.A. Gauthier.

The F.A. Gauthier had been acquired in 2015 for $220 million, a purchase that prompted a controversy when two whistleblowers came forward to allege shortcomings in the way it was built, and lax oversight on the part of the purchasers.

Luc Paradis/Radio-Canada
Luc Paradis/Radio-Canada

Quebec's Auditor-General was called in last year to investigate the purchase.

The F.A. Gauther was out of commission for all of 2019 because of engine issues. It came back online in January of this year, before once again being withdrawn in September for scheduled repairs.

On Oct. 8, the ship floated away from a maintenance dock in Trois-Rivières and had to be retrieved in the middle of the St. Lawrence.

The Apollo, meanwhile, was in service for 17 days. Over that time it made 10 crossings, crashed into the wharf at Godbout, and also thumped the dock in Matane.

"Come on, is there a captain on the ship? I have a hard time believing it's this bad!" the region's MNA, Pascal Bérubé, said at the time.

The Apollo was deemed unseaworthy soon after.

Used ferry for sale

The STQ had a plan, however: sink the ship to the bottom of the river and donate nearly $2 million to a local nonprofit to scuttle and maintain it as artificial reef and diving attraction.

That plan fell by the wayside this week. It turns out the Apollo has an asbestos problem.

"When we got into this … we thought everything would be fine, we were sure our estimates were accurate, but that's not the case," said Jean-Yves Bouffard, the president of the Société Apollo de Godbout. "We found all sorts of things. Nobody has plans for that boat."

The society, which acquired the Apollo for $1, is now looking for a buyer.