Early-morning and night-time ferry sailings between Gabriola Island and Nanaimo Harbour are being cancelled and replaced with water taxi service due to a staffing issue, says B.C. Ferries.
In a service notice, B.C. Ferries said the issue has led to a “modified schedule until further notice,” with a 10-passenger water taxi offering complimentary service on the select cancelled sailings. A six-passenger water taxi will also provide extra service in the mornings, from Monday to Friday. Water taxi shuttle service will be offered from Descanso Bay ferry terminal 5:15-7:35 a.m. Water taxi shuttles will be offered from Nanaimo Harbour 5:15-7:35 a.m. Monday to Friday and 5:45-8:10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Water taxis will depart Descanso Bay at 7, 8:40, 9:40 and 10:35 p.m. daily, as well as at 7:35, 9:10, 10:05 and 11 p.m. from Nanaimo Harbour. The MV Quinsam will operate at all other times, B.C. Ferries said.
Vanessa Craig, Regional District of Nanaimo director for Gabriola Island, told the News Bulletin residents will be negatively affected, especially early-morning passengers.
“My understanding is that due to the vaccine mandate that was brought in on Monday, they didn’t have sufficient [workers] to cover two full crews … the 6:20 a.m. off Gabriola is actually quite a busy ferry due to people going for work that have to drive farther or medical appointments and so we’re seeing a big impact by not having that 6:20 a.m. ferry off of Gabriola with vehicles,” said Craig.
Steven Earle, Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee chairperson, expressed frustration as the committee was notified last minute about the changes.
“We heard that there were potential issues late last week and then we got a call on Friday last week saying, ‘No, it looks like everything’s going to be OK, we’re going to be operating normally next week,’” Earle said. “Then on [Sunday afternoon], we were told, ‘Whoops, it doesn’t look so good. We’re going to go to this reduced shift tomorrow morning.’ So Gabriolans had 12 hours’ notice, which is a real problem.”
B.C. Ferries apologized for the inconvenience and in an e-mail, Astrid Chang, B.C. Ferries spokesperson, said the ferry corporation is “doing its utmost to minimize further disruption to service” as it rolls out its mandatory vaccination policy. It requires onboard staff to provide proof of at least one dose of vaccine by Nov. 15 to adhere to Transport Canada regulations, she said.
“In line with other organizations, approximately 1.6 per cent of employees have indicated they are unvaccinated,” said Chang. “A small number of employees are seeking accommodations and these cases are currently being reviewed. Working closely with the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, B.C. Ferries is actively reaching out to onboard employees who have yet to report to ensure they understand the requirements and encourage them to submit their attestations and comply as soon as possible.”
The Nanaimo Harbour-Descanso Bay route is the only one affected by staffing shortages, said Chang.
There is no indication or estimation as to when regular service will resume.