BC Ferries released a copy of its contingency plan to the public last week, which outlines how and why replacements are planned to fill potential gaps in service caused by issues with vessels.
“We always hope that breakdowns or events don’t occur across the fleet, but sometimes they do,” said BC Ferries’ vice president of strategy and community engagement Mark Wilson last week. “We want to make sure as a very efficient service provider that we have a plan that we can fall back to if things occur, to hopefully minimize the impact.”
In the summer of 2018, the Quinitsa was held as a reserve ferry for any possible outages in the Gulf Islands. The 44-car vessel proved useful after a training incident on the Queen of Cumberland caused damage that saw the vessel pulled out of service. The Quinitsa covered sailings on the dangerous cargo route to the Southern Gulf Islands for a month until the Queen of Cumberland was brought back into service.
This year, those replacement duties fall to the 26-car Quadra Queen II. The smaller vessel will serve as a replacement boat for the Northern and Southern Gulf Islands routes if the regular vessels are expected to be out of service for an extended period of time. Shorter times will involve using alternate routes to reach the islands.
The plan shows that if the Skeena Queen is out of service from one to three days, drivers will be asked to divert to Crofton to cross over to Salt Spring. If the Quinitsa is out of service, drivers will be similarly sent to Swartz Bay to cross. In that case, foot passenger traffic will be handled by water taxis to the Vesuvius terminal.
Service on the Tsawwassen to Gulf Islands routes are covered by the two interchangeable Salish-class vessels. Usually working in tandem with one full- and one part-time vessel, in the case of an incident the remaining ship will take on the full-time sailings. The Bowen Queen will be brought over after the seventh day of outage, with the Quadra Queen II being placed on the Bowen Queen’s regular route.
“Remember this is an emergency backup,” Wilson said. “The system is very asset-intensive. Between terminals and ships, they’re costly assets and there’s not a high level of redundancy when you’re running flat-out. If something does occur… we want a plan. It’s not business as usual, but it makes use of the assets that we do have and makes sure that we have a plan to react and recover as quickly and efficiently as we can.”
In previous years, the company has had contingency plans for individual routes. This year is the first time that one overarching document was created and made available to the public.
Though the plan’s primary focus is the summer months, it will be applicable during the off-season as well. BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall explained that in the winter it is easier to replace vessels, since the company does have some in reserve during the slower season.
BC Ferries plans on standardizing its fleet over the next 10 years. As more ships become standardized, the redundancy will increase and travellers should see fewer issues with vessels.
The contingency plan is available here.
For more on this story, see the July 24, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.