Skeena Queen struggles after refit return

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Ferry passengers travelling between Fulford Harbour and Swartz Bay have been getting used to a new version of the route’s regular vessel since the Skeena Queen returned from its mid-life upgrade on March 13, but the boat has been plagued by issues in recent days.

Today (March 25), the Skeena is out of service so that the ship’s crew and technicians can adjust and trial new equipment on the vessel. It is being replaced by the Bowen Queen on the regular schedule.

On the evening of Thursday, March 19, the Queen of Cumberland had to be brought in for the last run of the day, with a resulting delay, and then the Bowen Queen started sailings the next morning.

The Skeena Queen was removed from service on Oct. 28 to undergo its mid-life upgrade, which BC Ferries says was necessary to provide required maintenance on the ship. It was built in 1997 and needed work to provide another 20 years of safe and reliable service.

Enhancing the customer experience was another consideration.

“We heard from customers about some areas on the ship that needed improvement, and we took that feedback into account during the upgrade,” said Brian Anderson, BC Ferries’ vice-president of strategy and community engagement.

Customers will notice new furniture in the passenger lounges as well as additional exterior benches that will provide seating for travellers to take in the view in the warm summer months. One of the lounges was also converted to provide cafeteria-style seating with tables.

The ship now has air conditioning and washroom areas have been expanded so they are no longer single stalls. The navigation, communication and electrical systems were improved to enhance safety and reliability.

While its transfer onto the route last fall was a bit rough in terms of timing and overloads, many passengers had grown to appreciate the replacement vessel Queen of Cumberland for its extra comforts. Salt Spring Island Ferry Advisory Committee chair Harold Swierenga notes the Skeena’s upgrade will provide some extra comforts, and returns the single-deck loading scenario that is beneficial during busier seasons.

“While passengers may miss the popular lounge and cafe on the Queen of Cumberland, we look forward to experiencing the upgraded and improved amenities on the Skeena Queen,” Swierenga said. “On the whole, the return of the efficient Skeena Queen to Fulford Harbour will be warmly welcomed.”

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