Due to a staffing issue stemming from a Transport Canada interim Order requiring Mandatory Vaccinations for ferry staff, BC Ferries will be cancelling select sailings on the Gabriola Route starting Monday, Nov. 15.
This was announced in a Service Notice sent out at 4:42pm on Sunday, November 14.
Gabriola is the only route in the system so far losing sailings to the mandatory vaccination Order, which states staff working on board the ships must have received their first dose by November 15.
As late as this past Friday, BC Ferries representatives were telling the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee members, as well as the Sounder, that they did not forsee there being service interruptions due to the vaccination requirements.
In a Service Notice issued on Sunday, Nov. 14, BC Ferries states, “Due to a staffing issue, the MV Quinsam has cancelled select sailings and will be operating on a modified schedule from November 15 through November 16. A complimentary 10 passenger water taxi will be available for those needing to travel on the select cancelled sailings. Prior to boarding the water taxi, please visit the Nanaimo Harbour ticket booth to secure a boarding pass.
“Your safety is important to us. We require a specific number of crew on board the vessel to ensure the safety of our passengers in the unlikely event of an emergency and to comply with Transport Canada regulations. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.”
Steve Earle, co-Chair of the Gabriola FAC said he has been told BC Ferries expects a resumption of normal service levels on Wednesday, Nov. 17.
Earle said, “The Gabriola FAC deeply regrets that sailing cancellations are being made at all, and especially on such short notice. We were assured by BC Ferries only two days ago (Friday of last week) that no cancellations were expected on this route because of the vaccination status requirements. We know that many Gabriolans will be inconvenienced, and hope that it is only for Monday and Tuesday, as indicated today by BC Ferries.”
Beginning on January 24, 2022, Transport Canada will require that every person (excluding passengers) on board the vessel is fully vaccinated.
The Interim Order came from the Federal Minister of Transport on October 30, 2021, and applies to the Authorized Representatives of any Canadian vessel which operates with 12 or more crew members, or which is part of a fleet which contains at least one vessel which operates with 12 or more crew members, as well as the Authorized Representatives of any foreign or domestic non-essential passenger vessels on voyages of 24 hours or more.
For passengers on non-essential passenger vessels, such as cruise ships, on voyages of 24 hours or more, Transport Canada will be issuing requirements on November 30, 2021 to support the resumption of the Canadian cruise season in 2022.
On Friday, Darin Guenette, Communications Manager with BC Ferries said, “Transport Canada issued their Interim Order, Respecting Passenger Vessel Restrictions to the Coronavirus Disease on Oct 30 for compliance by Nov 15. Once we had the details of the Order, we issued our COVID-19 Vaccination Policy to employees on Nov 5. We’ve told employees they must complete attestation by Nov 10 so the company can attest to Transport Canada by Nov 15.”
Guenette said other companies BC Ferries is speaking with are seeing refusal rates of one to two per cent once policies are implemented.
“So far, from the attestations we’ve received from shipboard staff, less than one per cent are not vaccinated.”
He said BC Ferries would be taking a phased approach to mandatory employee vaccination to allow a smooth transition to a fully vaccinated workforce.
“Transport Canada requires ship-based employees to be fully vaccinated by January 24, 2022. The remainder of BC Ferries employees will be required to be fully vaccinated by February 28, 2022. Some exemptions apply. Employees who do not comply with the policy will be placed on leave without pay.”
Guenette wrote that BC Ferries supports, encourages and requires COVID-19 vaccination for all employees as it limits the risk of spreading COVID-19, maintains access to critical health care services for those in need, and protects employees and passengers against future outbreaks.
“We believe implementing a mandatory vaccination policy for all employees is the right thing to do to protect everyone who works for, or travels with, BC Ferries. BC Ferries’ policy and decision aligns with other transit agencies in British Columbia. BC Ferries’ COVID-19 Vaccination Policy complies with the guidelines and directives set by the federal government, provincial government and provincial health authority.”
The Interim Order also provides that an operator of an essential passenger vessel or ferry vessel must:
“Reduce by 50% the maximum number of passengers that are carried on-board (conduct half-load voyages); OR
“If no reduction in passengers, implement alternative practices to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, consistent with guidance put forward by the local health authority for the region in which the vessel is operating.”
There is no requirement for passengers on board BC Ferries to be vaccinated.