Crossings canceled as ferry crews wither over virus and bad weather, union says

On Thursday, two Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen return trips were canceled; two Swartz Bay-Salt Spring round trips were canceled on Wednesday

The rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19, bad weather and the usual winter ailments forced BC Ferries to cancel eight crossings in the past two days, and the president of the union representing ferry workers said travelers should get used to it until 2022.

Eric McNeely, president of the BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, said ferry cancellations due to understaffing are the result of a combination of factors.

“Right now there are seasonal illnesses at this time of year combined with some cases of COVID and the weather hasn’t helped at all,” he said, noting that many members of the crew must commute on the Malahat to get to work in Swartz Bay, navigating heavy snow and difficult driving conditions.

BC Ferries canceled two Coastal Renaissance round trips between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen on Thursday citing personnel issues. The day before, the company canceled two round-trip crossings between Fulford Port on Salt Spring Island and Swartz Bay due to a Skeena Queen crew issue.

In both cases, BC Ferries said a specific number of crew members are needed to ensure safety in an emergency and to meet Transport Canada regulations.

McNeely said crews aboard BC Ferries ships are stretched out, doing a lot of work and getting burned out.

“Morale is not good,” he said, noting that some catering crews which should number more than 20 are reduced to 14. “So the staff who operate the ships, most are working a lot of overtime and people are getting burned out.

“When you do the work of 20 or 30 people with half of that, it wears people out. “

When asked, BC Ferries did not say why there were staffing issues. The company said drivers who booked would recoup their booking fees.

As for passengers unable to cross between Swartz Bay and Fulford Harbor on Wednesday, BC Ferries directed them to the alternate crossing point between Crofton and Vesuvius Bay. BC Ferries did not offer an optional water taxi service, as it did in November for passengers traveling between Gabriola Island and Nanaimo.

In Gabriola’s case, travel was interrupted due to understaffing due to crew members who had not yet been vaccinated. Free water taxis shuttled between Gabriola and Nanaimo instead of early morning and evening departures.

In a statement, BC Ferries spokeswoman Astrid Braunschmidt said the company can help people without a vehicle get to another crossing point when crossings are canceled.

“Anyone requiring assistance with travel is encouraged to speak to a BC Ferries employee at the terminal, on board the vessel, or by contacting our customer service team. Our staff are ready to assist you and compensation claims are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

McNeely said to tackle staffing issues, the union recommends hiring more people, offering better pay and providing professional development so junior crews can move up through the ranks. “It’s not just about having a crew, it’s about keeping the crew,” he said, noting that having more people to lean on would allow those who wear themselves out to take the time needed to recharge your batteries. “I think the staffing levels have been the lowest in a long, long time. “

BC Ferries recommends getting up-to-date information on departures and departures by following the company on Twitter (@BCFerries), visiting bcferries.com, or calling 1-888-223-3779.

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