It looks like islanders won’t be able to get on and off Haida Gwaii by ferry until at least mid-April, following the devastating loss of the Queen of the North in the Inside Passage this week, Alex Rinfret writes.
The only other ferry which can serve the Skidegate-Prince Rupert route, the Queen of Prince Rupert, is currently undergoing its regular refit in Vancouver. BC Ferry Services Inc. spokesperson Deborah Marshall said Friday that while the refit is being speeded up, the vessel still needs quite a bit of work done and has to be recertified.
“We don’t have a definite date yet but it looks like it will be mid-April,” Ms Marshall said.
On Thursday, BC Ferries president David Hahn told the Observer the Queen of Prince Rupert would be back in service by April 1. That no longer appears possible.
BC Ferry Services has also decided, in the wake of the sinking, to convert a portion of the passenger cabins into crew accommodation, so the crew will no longer have to sleep under the car deck.
“It is going to greatly reduce the accommodation available to customers,” Ms Marshall said. “But safety is paramount.”
The below-car deck cabins haven’t been used by the public since the 1994 sinking of the Estonia in the Baltic Sea, a ship with a similar design to the Queen of the North.
Meanwhile, BC Ferry Services has arranged for a barge to bring groceries and other supplies to the islands, and it should be arriving by Tuesday.
BC Ferry Services is also making arrangements to fly islanders who need to get to the mainland while the Queen of Prince Rupert remains in refit. Ms Marshall said people who need this service can check the BC Ferry Services or web site or call the reservation number. Details have not been entirely worked out, but Ms Marshall said the flights will probably cost the same as the regular ferry fare.
Questions like how the ferry schedule will work in the summer, when both ferries usually served the Skidegate-Rupert and Rupert-Port Hardy routes, are still unanswered.
Ms Marshall confirmed that BC Ferry Services is still going ahead with the “alternative service provision” process, an attempt to see if another company could run the northern routes more efficiently. (According to MLA Gary Coons, representatives of one of the interested companies were aboard the Queen of the North the night she sank, along with some high-ranking BC Ferries staff, taking a tour of the route.)
There is only one company still interested in running the service, Ms Marshall said. According to the latest timeline, the company will have until February 2007 to submit a proposal.
However, that’s not going to stop BC Ferry Services from going ahead and ordering three new vessels for the northern routes, Ms Marshall said. The provincial government approved funding for the new vessels this week (it didn’t say the exact amount, but it’s rumoured to be $350-million), a plan which has been in the works for several years.
Ms Marshall said the ordering of the new vessels will be speeded up due to the accident.
“It’s absolutely necessary,” she said. “We will really expedite it.”
There are three investigations underway in Prince Rupert at the moment, with BC Ferry Services, the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada all looking into the March 22 sinking. Ms Marshall said BC Ferry Services has spoken to all the passengers, and only three of them were still at the Crest Hotel as of Friday afternoon.
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