North Island-Powell River MP says new ferries understaffed

The MP for North Island-Powell River is citing safety concerns as she calls for a federal examination of crew levels on B.C. Ferries’ newest vessels.

Rachel Blaney has asked Transport Minister Marc Garneau to review his department’s decision to require a crew of five on each of the Island Aurora and the Island Discovery. Blaney says that’s down from six or seven on the vessels previously used on the same routes.

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The new ferries came into service last month.

The Island Aurora serves the Port McNeill-Alert Bay-Sointula route. It replaces the 51-year-old Quadra Queen II, which will used as a relief vessel.

The Island Discovery is on the Texada Island-Powell River route, replacing the North Island Princess, now retired.

Blaney said in a Friday statement that the lower crew levels have led to community worries about routine safety, the ability to respond to emergencies, and additional health and safety protocols in response to COVID-19. “These communities depend on this service to not only provide essential travel and supplies, but also as a source of employment,” she said.

Four more Island-class ferries are on order.

B.C. Ferries’ Deborah Marshall said the crew size is consistent with, or larger than, that of similar vessels elsewhere in the world. “These ships are more efficient than the older vessels they are replacing, so they require fewer crew.”

“We are working through the implications and potential impact to jobs with the union.”

The Aurora and Discovery are hybrid-electric vessels which were designed for full electric power. B.C. Ferries hopes to see shore-charging technology in place in the future for these and subsequent similar vessels. Each of the new vessels can hold up to 47 vehicles.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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