B.C. Ferries says it’s in talks with the operator of the Lasqueti Island ferry as passengers complain about unreliable sailings.
Some passengers have complained that ferry service has been erratic this summer and that a number of sailings were cancelled.
Spokesperson Karen Johnston said B.C. Ferries is “very aware” of the community’s concerns regarding service under the current contract, which is set to expire at the end of March.
Vancouver-based Western Pacific Marine operates the M.V. Centurion VII under a contract with B.C. Ferries. The vessel carries foot traffic from French Creek Harbour — between Parksville and Qualicum Beach — to False Bay on Lasqueti Island.
Johnston said on Monday that B.C. Ferries is in “ongoing discussions with [Western Pacific Marine] to ensure all aspects of the current contract are being met, and penalties imposed, if warranted.”
The Centurion VII can carry up to 59 passengers while its backup, the Hollyburn, can carry 40.
B.C. Ferries contracts out services to a number of smaller operators along the coast, including the Lasqueti Island ferry, with the province contributing funding to operate contracted services.
A B.C. Ferries marine superintendent is responsible for ensuring terms of the contract are met, Johnston said.
The contract requires a minimum number of annual sailings per year and Western Pacific Marine must provide a trip summary of all sailings.
Operators are subject to fee adjustments when services are not delivered per the contract’s terms. In cases of continued lack of service by an operator, B.C. Ferries can put the company on notice and require a remedy within 10 days, Johnston said.
Odai Sirri, spokesperson for Western Pacific Marine, attributed “challenges” in service during the peak season to a crew shortage and mechanical issues.
“Our commitment is that we are doing our very best to work with our partners to resolve them and mitigate them in the future.”
He said that two staff left at close to the same time during the summer, and Western Pacific, like other ferry services, is finding it difficult to fill vacancies.
“Staff shortages are everywhere,” he said. “We are all short-staffed and we are dealing with it.”
When staff numbers decline, the number of passengers that can be carried by that vessel also decreases, he said. “We’ve had to do that on some sailings.”
The company is doing what it can to address crew shortages, Sirri said, adding when mechanical issues arise, it can be difficult to get into a shipyard for repairs and take much longer than in the past to obtain needed parts.
If the larger vessel is out of service, the smaller backup vessel has to be called in. The company has not missed any sailing days but sometimes sailings times have been adjusted, Sirri said.
The Centurion VII is out of service for most of this month for its annual refit.
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