By Alex Rinfret-Community leaders from the islands who participated in a conference call Monday with BC Ferry Services were shocked to hear that absolutely no cabins will be available to the public when the Queen of Prince Rupert returns in mid-April.
And they described the decision as disastrous for both islanders and tourists.
Almost every one of the 48 passenger cabins is being taken over for crew accommodation in the wake of the Queen of the North’s sinking, the leaders were told April 3.
“Understandably, the crew doesn’t want to have their cabins below the water line,” said Queen Charlotte mayor Carol Kulesha. She added that BC Ferries said a couple of cabins may be available at the crew’s discretion for passengers with medical issues, but they will not take reservations.
Making the overnight Hecate Strait crossing without a cabin is extremely uncomfortable, Ms Kulesha said. She noted that many of the visitors who come to the islands are elderly, and may decide not to make the trip due to the lack of cabins.
“I’ve already slept on the floor a number of times, and when I get to the other side and have to do business, I’m a wreck,” she said.
BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall confirmed that there will no longer be cabins available to the general public on the Queen of Prince Rupert, although there will be a few for medical travellers.
Andrew Merilees, president of the Haida Gwaii Tourism Association, said while he can understand the crew’s reluctance to bunk under the car deck, the cabin move was not required by Transport Canada. BC Ferries staff on the conference call said they moved the cabins because crew members said they would refuse to work on the QPR otherwise.
Ms Marshall confirmed that Transport Canada has not demanded the crew cabins be moved, and that the decision came following discussions with the union.
“We’ve said the safety of the crew is paramount,” she said. “They had water coming in their cabins, and they were concerned.”
But Mr. Merilees said the decision is bad news for islanders.
“It’s going to make a bad situation even worse,” he said. BC Ferries staff also said they will not be making any more floor space available to the public, and Mr. Merilees predicted it will be difficult to find a spot to bunk down on the QPR, which is smaller than the Queen of the North and already often crowded with sleeping passengers.
For tourists wanting to visit the islands, the situation will be “absolutely horrible,” Mr. Merilees said.
Meanwhile, there are no answers about what our summer ferry schedule will look like. Normally, there are six round-trip sailings a week between Skidegate and Prince Rupert in July and August, but without a second ship this schedule will be impossible.
“They weren’t very promising about finding something for the summer season,” Ms Kulesha said, although they assured the community leaders they are working as hard as possible on a solution. BC Ferries said they have people looking in Europe for a ship that can handle Hecate Strait and meet Transport Canada regulations, but there’s probably not enough time to get such a ship – if it exists – over here, certified, and ready by the summer.
BC Ferries will hold another conference call with the community leaders next week, and said they hope to have answers in a week or two.
The Queen of Prince Rupert has moved out of the dry dock in Esquimalt to one in the Lower Mainland and is on track to return to the Charlottes by April 16, Ms Marshall said.
BC Ferries is continuing to fly passengers who need to travel for medical reasons and passengers who made reservations before March 22 out of Sandspit to Prince Rupert and other destinations, Ms Marshall said.
But for people without a reservation or a medical appointment, the only option for leaving the islands is a floatplane to Prince Rupert, or a flight to Vancouver, with no subsidy from BC Ferries available.
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