Islanders were left with no ferry service after the Queen of Prince Rupert broke down Friday afternoon (Jan. 23) on its way to Port Hardy.
The ferry was about five hours out of Prince Rupert on its south-bound journey-heading for Port Hardy- when the starboard gear box developed a mechanical problem, said BC Ferry Services Inc. communications coordinator Ann Carpenter. The ship was not able to maneuver normally without the gear box, so stops at Ocean Falls and Bella Bella were cancelled and it proceeded directly to Port Hardy, she said.
The QPR is now being repaired at the shipyards in Richmond, where it was already scheduled to go for an extensive refit in mid-February. The other northern ferry, the Queen of the North, is still undergoing its annual refit at Ogden Point in Victoria, Ms Carpenter said.
BC Ferry Services was trying to speed up the refit to allow the Queen of the North to start serving the northern routes by Saturday (Jan. 31). The QN was already scheduled to start serving these routes in mid-February.
Meanwhile, BC Ferry Services has hired a tug and barge to make two round trips to the islands this week, bringing groceries and other freight stranded in Prince Rupert.
Gord Nettleton, manager of northern services, said bad weather prevented the barge from leaving Monday as planned. It was scheduled to get to the islands early Wednesday.
Richard Clarmont, general manager of the Delmas Co-op, said he was posting signs to keep customers up to speed.
“We’ll be one day behind, which is not that unusual at this time of year,” he said.
About 170 people had reservations on the Skidegate-Prince Rupert route this week, Ms Carpenter said. BC Ferry Services chartered a Hawkair plane which was to leave Rupert Monday evening with 37 passengers who had been stranded. It returned to the mainland with a plane-load of passengers returning from the islands.
Captain Nettleton said the plane would also leave Tuesday and Thursday. BC Ferry Services was giving priority to people travelling for medical reasons, children, and people trying to get home. Passengers who wanted to travel by plane had to have a ferry reservation, and had to register with the Prince Rupert terminal.
At least one islander wants $300 back from BC Ferry Services. Marty Decock bought one-way plane tickets for himself and a co-worker to get home from Prince Rupert Sunday afternoon after being told there would be no ferry service until at least Jan. 31. Terminal staff neglected to inform them about the charter flight leaving Rupert the next day, Gabrielle Decock said.
“I am livid,” Ms Decock said. “If they would have known there was a charter flight, they would have taken it.”
Ms Decock said she was also concerned about security at the ferry terminal, where her husband had to leave his truck until ferry service resumes. In the past, they have had their vehicle vandalized while it was parked in Rupert.
Capt. Nettleton said the Rupert terminal is now being staffed 24 hours a day. He also phoned all the mayors and chief councillors in the area to give them an update on the situation.
“Where else in the fleet could you go without a ferry for a week?” he asked, noting that in the south, people get upset if ferry service is delayed for even an hour. “I love working in the north. People have been great, they’re really understanding.”
Capt. Nettleton said people with complaints like Mr. Decock’s should submit them in writing to BC Ferry Services Inc. customer communications, at 1112 Fort Street, Victoria, V8V 4V2.
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