Second major BC Ferries vessel to exit service for repairs next month

Second major BC Ferries vessel to exit service for repairs next month
TheThe Spirit of Vancouver Island is pictured in this file photo.

One of BC Ferries’ largest vessels will be pulled from service next month to undergo repairs, making it the second out of service for the company this summer.

The Spirit of Vancouver Island, which travels between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen, will enter dry dock from Oct. 10 to 18 for ballast tank repairs.

The vessel is just one of two Spirit class vessels, the largest in the BC Ferries fleet.

BC Ferries says two vessels will continue to offer service on the Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen route between Oct. 11 to 18, but travellers are encouraged to make reservations as overloads are expected throughout the week – particularly on Oct. 13 and 15.

Eric McNeely, provincial president of the BC Ferry & Marine Workers’ Union, says he expects this time period to be a “challenging week” for BC Ferries.

To help provide relief along a major route like the Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen run, smaller vessels will be redeployed from their usual routes, meaning many routes will be affected to some degree by the Spirit of Vancouver Island’s absence.

“The capacity difference between a ‘Spirit class’ and a ‘C class’ is potentially a few hundred people a day, a few hundred reservations a day, so that could be a significant knock-on,” said McNeely.

BC Ferries has already had to get creative with its fleet deployments since the Coastal Renaissance was pulled from service until at least November.

The company had previously been uncertain where the repairs would be completed, and the rotor has now been sent to Indiana to be fixed.

McNeely says it was a smart decision to delay the Spirit of Vancouver Island’s repairs until after the busy Truth and Reconciliation Day long weekend, and Thanksgiving long weekend.

He adds it can be difficult to repair ferries in a timely manner, considering there are global supply chain issues.

“If you don’t have the replacement equipment on hand, those waits can be affected,” he said.

That being said, McNeely says the union encourages BC Ferries to beef up the number of times ferries are inspected, and how thoroughly they are reviewed.

“Sometimes there are mechanical or engineering failures that surprise, but having enough time to inspect and make sure there’s no surprises is important,” he said.

Rural frustrations

With the Coastal Renaissance out of service, and the Spirit of Vancouver Island soon to join it, some residents of coastal B.C. say they feel abandoned by BC Ferries.

McNeely notes that vessels have had to replace the Coastal Renaissance on its usual runs between Vancouver and Nanaimo, and between Vancouver and Victoria, leaving their original routes shorthanded.

It’s an issue that’s been keenly felt along the Sunshine Coast, where a resident recently threatened a BC Ferries advisory committee over recent cancellations and delays.

RELATED: BC Ferries cancels more Sunshine Coast sailings due to staff shortage

“Well, I think that’s probably pretty indicative of the frustration going around,” said McNeely.

He added that while no one should have to endure abuse or threats, he acknowledges nearly 2,000 sailings across BC Ferries’ routes have been cancelled over the past year.

“I believe it speaks to the frustration of people when they can’t get to a medical appointment, to a wedding, to a funeral, to life events,” said McNeely.

“And I know that the Sunshine Coast – Langdale, specifically, where this meeting was held, in Gibsons – they’ve been promised quite a bit in the past and it hasn’t been delivered and the Sunshine Coast has seen a significant rise in people moving there or spending time on the Sunshine Coast, and that’s had a real impact on people’s abilities to get to and from the mainland,” he said.

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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