Bomb threat shuts down ferry

A bomb threat forced the evacuation of B.C. Ferries’ Departure Bay terminal and Queen of Coquitlam Saturday.

A weekend bomb scare aboard a B.C. Ferries vessel forced passengers to abandon ship Saturday.

B.C. Ferries received a call from an anonymous caller shortly after 3 p.m. saying there was a bomb aboard the M.V. Queen of Coquitlam, which was about to set sail from the Departure Bay terminal.

The vessel’s passengers were evacuated and the aerodrome at Brechin Point was also shut down.

Bomb sniffing dogs, from the RCMP and from B.C. Ferries, were brought aboard to search for explosives.

Nanaimo RCMP Marine Unit and Nanaimo Harbour Commission vessels kept the waters around the ferry terminal clear of boaters while the search was carried out.

The RCMP’s Explosives Disposal Unit was kept on standby in case a bomb was found.

Police also ordered several regional transit buses to shuttle passengers to Beban Park Social Cetnre, where city employees and volunteers with the Nanaimo Emergency Program had set up a reception centre.

Karen Lindsay, Nanaimo Emergency Program coordinator, said the centre received about 500 passengers plus 50 dogs that were aboard the ferry.

“It’s essentially like a comfort centre or an area where they could congregate everybody,” Lindsay said. “They were without vehicles – we had walk-ons – and it wasn’t as if they had access to their cars.”

Lindsay said the reception centre, which provided coffee, water and seating for the passengers, was set up within about 30 minutes after emergency program staff received the call at about 3:30 p.m.

“Nanaimo RCMP asked that we take the passengers off-premises so they went to the rec centre,” said Deborah Marshall, B.C. Ferries spokeswoman. “The police brought in one dog and we have a contract with a company to do sniffing at the terminal and they brought in two more dogs to search the ship.”

Thrifty Foods, one of the grocery chains that works with the Nanaimo Emergency Program, supplied water.

Police said two passengers with complications from diabetes were taken to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

No bomb was discovered and police gave the OK to resume operations at 6:30 p.m. Passengers were returned to the terminal and the Coquitlam sailed at 8:15 p.m.

The threat cancelled two sailings on the route, while the Queen of Oak Bay sailed from Horseshoe Bay to Duke Point. Foot passengers there were shuttled to Nanaimo and drivers arriving at Departure Bay were rerouted to Duke Point.

“Usually traffic on a Saturday night is not too busy, it does tend to taper off,” said Marshall. “We did have an overload off that 8:15 [p.m.] sailing, but it was all cleared on the 9:30.”

B.C. Ferries had a bomb threat in 2007 and subsequently implemented additional security measures at terminals.

Marshall said the corporation is pleased with the way the crew handled Saturday’s situation.

“They did a very professional job,” she said.

Police provided information updates about the status of the situation and when people could expect to be on their way.

“It almost acted, in essence, as an information centre, a shelter and just somewhere where they could sit, talk and get information where they weren’t sitting out in the cold in a parking lot,” Lindsay said.

The investigation was handed over to Nanaimo RCMP’s Serious Crimes Unit.

Const. Gary O’Brien said there are no new developments in the investigation.

“Nothing that we can speak of,” O’Brien said. “We have information based on the phone call, so we have to look at that, but there’s only so much we can provide other than it was a call saying there was a bomb on board. It’s an ongoing file so we can’t comment on it.”