An officer on a ferry that crashed and sank off British Columbia's northern coast nearly four years ago is facing criminal charges in connection with the drowning deaths of two passengers.

Navigating officer Karl Lilgert was charged Tuesday with criminal negligence causing the deaths of passengers Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette. Their bodies have never been found.

The two were passengers on board the Queen of the North when it crashed into Gil Island in the middle of the night of March 22, 2006.

About 100 other passengers and crew who were on board the ferry safely made it to shore.

According to B.C.'s criminal justice branch, a negligence charge is laid when evidence shows someone did not perform their duty and showed reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others.

"Mr. Lilgert has been charged on the basis that he was the navigating officer responsible for steering of the vessel at the time of the incident," the branch said in a news release.

"The available evidence does not support the laying of charges against anyone other than Mr. Lilgert."

An investigation into the incident by the Transportation Safety Board found the two crew members on the bridge that night -- Quartermaster Karen Bricker and Lilgert, the fourth officer -- failed to correct the ferry's course, which led to the crash.

The board issued a report that found navigation equipment that would have warned of the impending crash had been turned off weeks beforehand.

According to the report, Bricker and Lilgert had been in a relationship and were on their first shift alone together since splitting up. The two were having a personal conversation before the crash.

Bricker, Lilgert and Second Officer Keven Hilton, who was on a scheduled meal break at the time of the incident, were all fired.

Lilgert's lawyer, Glen Orris, said his client intends to plead not guilty.

"He doesn't deny that he is responsible for what happened. He was the person in charge of the ferry at the time that it ran aground, so clearly he's the one that's responsible," Orris said.

"But my view is the mistake or mistakes he may have made don't amount to criminal negligence."

Foisy's two daughters settled a lawsuit with B.C. Ferries last year for $200,000 when the cost of pursuing their suit grew too high.

Last year, three surviving passengers received small settlements for psychological distress and physical injury. One settlement totalled $14,000 for a commercial fisherman who said the accident made him scared of the water.

Two other passengers who sought compensation were denied but are appealing those decisions, while another 44 passengers still have cases pending.

With files from The Canadian Press