Northern Adventure back after bad week

  • Jan. 7, 2008 7:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret– The Northern Adventure arrived at the Skidegate terminal early Monday morning (Jan. 7) with a full load of passengers and vehicles, some of whom had been waiting for almost a week to board the vessel in Prince Rupert. BC Ferries suspended service on the northern routes Jan. 2 after lubricating oil contaminated with water was mistakenly added to the new ferry’s tanks, resulting in the engines shutting down and stranding the vessel near Bella Bella on the central coast. The Northern Adventure had been on its way to Port Hardy, but ended up spending the next three days anchored in Bella Bella while crew tried to purify the oil. BC Ferries eventually flew the 57 passengers out to Prince Rupert or Port Hardy. The vessel made its way back to Prince Rupert on Jan. 5 after receiving a truck load of fresh lubricating oil. As a results, islanders with reservations on the Jan. 3 sailing had to spend three extra days in Prince Rupert until the Northern Adventure finally returned to service Sunday night. Some of them had to scramble to cover hundreds of dollars of extra expenses for accommodation and food while they waited. Passengers trying to get to the mainland were stranded on the islands, while others ended up cancelling plans to go to Prince Rupert for the weekend. BC Ferries had originally intended to add an extra sailing to and from the Charlottes Saturday night and Sunday morning, but spokesperson Deborah Marshall said that had to be cancelled because the engineers wanted to do more safety checks on the vessel’s engines. The contaminated oil was the only problem and the Northern Adventure passed all its safety checks, Ms Marshall said. A welder was brought on board while the ferry was in Rupert to weld on more brackets to secure cargo, she said, something crew realized had to be done after some vehicles shifted during a rough crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound in late December. Both the Sunday night sailing from Rupert and the Monday morning sailing from Skidegate were fully loaded with vehicles. Two commercial drop trailers and one commercial vehicle had to be left behind in Rupert, and several vehicles were left behind in Skidegate. The ferry crew made an announcement over the PA system as the ferry left Rupert late Sunday, apologizing for the delay and the inconvenience to passengers. Exactly how much money the contaminated oil mistake will end up costing BC Ferries has yet to be calculated, Ms Marshall said. Ms Marshall said BC Ferries may compensate passengers for the expenses they incurred while waiting for service to resume, but they must submit a claim in writing, along with receipts, to the corporation. BC Ferries decides whether to reimburse claims on a case-by-case basis, she said. The process can take four to six weeks. Asked whether BC Ferries can do anything for passengers who have no money and no place to stay, Ms Marshall said “we would look at that on a case-by-case basis”. North Coast MLA Gary Coons spent much of last week fielding calls from stranded passengers upset about a lack of information from BC Ferries. “I’ve had calls from people trying to get to the Charlottes and they can’t get any information,” he said. “Some people are lucky enough to have a place to stay because they have family, but some people are returning from holidays and have no money.” It was hard for people to figure out what was going on because travellers don’t always have easy access to phones or internet, and BC Ferries staff kept telling people to call back in several hours for more information, and that the ferry would soon be back on schedule. Mr. Coons said he heard “major concern, confusion and anger” about the situation. He said islanders and other passengers had been let down by BC Ferries and that it was time for government to step in and play a bigger role. On Friday, Mr. Coons fired off a letter to Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon demanding government help for the affected passengers, as well as the ferry system in general. “Following the cancellation of BC Ferries services in Port Hardy, Bella Bella, the Queen Charlotte Islands and Prince Rupert, many (passengers) feel they have been abandoned with no support or updated information on the current situation,” he wrote. “It’s an embarrassment for our entire province that two days later, the government still hasn’t found a solution to this problem. It’s a reflection of your government’s ongoing neglect of BC’s northern, ferry-dependent communities. It’s high time you fully understood that residents and businesses in coastal communities rely on BC Ferries services as an extension of the highway system, and neglect of the ferries system impacts them deeply in their day-to-day lives… Please apprise me of your plans to instruct BC Ferries to keep our marine highway open for ferry-dependent communities.” The Queen of Prince Rupert, the only other vessel in BC Ferries’s fleet which is certified to sail in north coast waters, is currently in refit and couldn’t fill in for the Northern Adventure while it was stuck. At least one islander who was forced to spend three extra days in Rupert is calling for BC Ferries to freeze fares for all residents of Haida Gwaii. Kris Leach, who left Dec. 31 for what she had hoped would be a quick trip to the mainland, said the ferry corporation needs to stop increasing fares, in recognition of the unique challenges faced by islanders trying to travel across Hecate Strait.

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