No replacement for sick engineer cancels last sailings of day

Six sailings between Campbell River and Quadra Island were cancelled Monday night as BC Ferries was unable to fill a key staffing position onboard the Powell River Queen.

Darin Guenette, manager of public affairs for BC Ferries, confirmed that the last three round trips of the night had to be cancelled, starting with the 7 p.m. sailing leaving Quadra Island.

“At that point, one of our engineers on board, a licensed, certified position, was unable to continue due to illness and we couldn’t get a replacement,” Guenette said.

Area C Director Jim Abram said it was the second time within about a month that sailings were cancelled due to a staffing shortage.

He said the incident on Monday left people who live on Quadra but work in Campbell River stranded and shoppers with cars full of groceries had to leave their food overnight. Abram said while BC Ferries did provide a water taxi, that didn’t help with the vehicles.

“There’s no excuse for this to happen, it’s completely inexcusable on the operations side,” Abram said. “We have, on Quadra Island, at least four recently retired skippers that all keep their certification current and they pay every year to maintain the ability to run the ferry for emergency purposes.”

But Guenette said BC Ferries needed an engineer with an engineer’s certificate – a Transport Canada requirement under BC Ferries’ crewing regulations.

“His position is called a third engineer,” said Guenette. “With these positions you have to have the same licensing.”

Guenette said it was the same situation in early December – an engineer became ill and sailings had to be cancelled.

“Obviously it’s not ideal, but illness happens,” Guenette said. “We do our best to find the nearest employee to fill in. It’s unfortunate, certainly, we never want any customers to be inconvenienced when we can’t sail. We always try to have the right people on our vessels.”

Abram said some of the staffing challenges could be solved if BC Ferries committed to more local hires.

“They’re hiring more and more people from off Island and it becomes limiting to people working, especially when the ferry leaves from (the Quadra) side,” Abram said. “The situation on Quadra Island is there are more than enough people working, and they’re ticketed to work on the ferry, and they’re not being hired.”

Abram said the Ferry Advisory Committee for the Campbell River/Quadra/Cortes run will get a chance to air its grievances when it meets with BC Ferries’ general manager of operations for the northern routes on Feb. 1.