Crewing issue leaves ferry passengers stranded, frustrated in Comox

The cancellation of B.C. Ferries sailings on the Comox-Powell River route due to a staffing shortage Saturday night left travellers scrambling for hotel accommodations.

“One of our crew members fell ill,” said B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall. “Crewing did the best they could, but they couldn’t find a replacement for that person.”

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The sick crew member holds a key position in the engineering department.

That meant cancellation of Saturday’s last Comox-Powell River round trip. The ferry was schedule to leave Comox at 7:10 p.m. and return from Powell River at 8:45 p.m.

“It’s very rare,” Marshall said of the cancellation. “It has happened before, but when you consider that we make about 170,000 sailings a year, it’s very rare that we would tie up because we don’t have the proper crew.”

She said vessels have to be crewed in a specific way.

“All of our ships are licensed by Transport Canada,” she said. “We have to have certain staff in certain positions with certain qualifications.”

Marshall said Saturday’s situation was “most unfortunate” and B.C. Ferries apologizes to those affected.

She said B.C. Ferries will consider requests for reimbursement from people who incurred expenses such as hotel stays.

Isabelle Southcott said she was counting on getting back to Powell River on the last ferry.

Bad weather and mechanical issues are what has kept the ferry at the dock before, she said.

But despite the staff-related cancellation, which has announced over the loudspeaker, she said she was luckier than many others because she was able to stay overnight with her mother in Comox instead of looking for a hotel.

“It was like a whole parking lot full of people that turned around,” Southcott said.

“There were people sleeping in their campers, in the overflow parking lot. Hotels were really booked. It wasn’t easy.”

Some were looking for hotels in Campbell River, Southcott said.

A Facebook post by Southcott brought plenty of response, including one from a woman who said family coming from Toronto was stranded. Another called the situation “ridiculous.”

Sunshine Coast resident and former B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson added that if he were still an area MLA he would have insisted a replacement crew member be brought in and a late sailing be run “to get people to where they need to be.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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