Washington State Ferries not restoring Sidney-Anacortes service this year

Washington State Ferries not restoring Sidney-Anacortes service this year
Sailings between Sidney and Anacortes will not be happening this year. (Photo credit: Nicholas Pescod/CHEK News)

There will be no ferry service between Sidney and Washington State this year.

Washington State Ferries confirmed this week that sailings on its Sidney-Anacortes route have been cancelled for the summer and the remainder of the year due to ongoing crewing and vessel shortages.

Ian Sterling, director of communications with Washington State Ferries, told CHEK News that the route isn’t coming back until next summer at the very earliest, meaning that there will be no sailings in 2022.

“We hope to get back to Canada but that is not going to happen this year,” he said. “Hopefully, maybe, for next summer.”

The Town of Sidney, which had been hoping to celebrate the route’s 100th anniversary this summer, called the news a disappointment.

“It is disappointing that this important connection between the Peninsula and the United States will continue to be suspended, however we recognize that Washington State Ferries is making every effort to restore its former routes,” Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil Smith said in a press release.

Sailings on the Sidney-San Juan Islands-Anacortes route have been halted since March 2020 following a ban on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States due to COVID-19. Though the ban was lifted in February, Washington State Ferries has been plagued by an ongoing labour shortage that forced them to remove the Sidney route from their spring sailing schedule.

Sterling said Washington State Ferries has been doing “aggressive” recruitment over the past nine months and things are slowly getting better.

“These aren’t jobs that you can just hire anyone off the street to do and so there is a little of delay of when you hire somebody to how much training and certification they need to get back out on a boat,” he said, adding. “Our situation is improving and we are slowly restoring domestic service.”

RELATED: Ferry service between Sidney and Anacortes cancelled due to labour shortage

Of course, Washington State Ferries is by no means the only ferry service that has been hit with labour shortages. BC Ferries has been struggling with its own shortage, which has seen sailings cancelled numerous times. Other services including North Carolina Ferry System, Maine State Ferry Service, Alaska Marine Highway System, and others have all experienced labour shortages due to the pandemic.

“It seems like everybody has staffing issues, whether its airports, airlines, and of course ferry services. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in B.C., Washington State or Maine, all of us are seeing the same thing,” said Sterling. “That’s led here in Washington State, and a lot of other places, to much reduced ferry service. Our job now is to get hired up, trained and out on the water.”

Being a state-owned ferry service, Sterling said the priority has been ensuring service on their commuter routes — Seattle-Bremerton and Seattle-Bainbridge Island for example — is restored to appropriate levels. He also said that while Sidney is an important destination, it’s more of a seasonal travel route and not a top priority.

“It is our intention to return to the route but on the priority list, it is the lowest one,” he said. “It’s one of our lowest ridership routes. It’s more of a tourist route for the most part and it is a great asset to have but compared to the big commuter routes in and out of Seattle, it is very small drop in the bucket.”

RELATED: BC Ferries cancels some Sunday sailings due to staff shortages

Earlier this week the Canadian government announced that vaccine requirements for those who fall under Transport Canada regulation, such as ferry workers, will be suspended starting June 20.

However, Washington still has a vaccine mandate for all state employees, which includes ferry workers. Sterling said the vaccine mandate contributed to the labour shortage at first, but it hasn’t been as much of an issue lately.

“We did lose some people back in October due to that requirement … but most, if not all of them, as far as the number of people goes, have been replaced at this point in time and now it is just getting hiring back to a situation where we can run full service again,” he said. “Vaccine is one piece of the puzzle, but there is a global shortage of mariners. No matter where you are in the world, everybody is competing for the same small pool of merchant marines.”

At the end of the day, Sterling said Washington State Ferries is optimistic that it can restore the Sidney route sometime in 2023.

“We’re looking at least the summer of 2023 before we are able to restore that service,” he said. “We have a plan of how we are going to restore service and we’ve done that already on some of our other routes and at the very bottom of that list is the international service up to Sidney.”

RELATED: Washington State Ferries suspends Sidney-Anacortes summer sailings for second straight year

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Nicholas PescodNicholas Pescod

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