One century after the start of ferry service between Sidney and Anacortes, Wash., uncertainty continues to surround the status of the historic route, which did not operate in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s increasingly unlikely service will resume this spring as we’re focused on domestic routes which have been severely reduced in service due to staffing as well,” said Ian Sterling, director of communications of Washington State Ferries (WSF) in a statement to Black Press Media.
Ferries have operated between Sidney and Anacortes since 1922, first under private ownership, then by WSF since 1951. WSF suspended service in March 2020 because of COVID-19. Historically, WSF offers one daily round-trip sailing during the second quarter and fourth quarter of any calendar year, two daily round-trip sailings during the third (summer) quarter, while suspending service during the opening quarter.
When asked whether the service could resume in the summer, Sterling said that option remains a possibility. “(And) the upcoming plan will help inform that decision,” he said.
WSF is currently finalizing a service-restoration plan to be released in early March.
One of the challenges Sterling said WSF faces is a labour shortage. “There’s a global shortage of mariners … We are short both deck and engine room personnel. The engine room shortage is especially acute.”
Another factor shaping the eventual future of the route is COVID-19.
“COVID cases in the fleet were at their highest in January and have fallen considerably since, so that’s a bright spot when it comes to our ability to staff boats,” he said. “With the route shut down since the beginning of the pandemic customs and immigration will require time to staff back up as well.”
Sterling said only one vessel, the Chelan, itself more than 50 years old, has the equipment the sail the route. “(It) is currently providing domestic service, but could easily pivot back to the international route when it opens,” he said. “We look forward to the day we can restore full service on all our routes and return to Sidney.”
Sidney CAO Randy Humble said in a statement to Black Press Media that the municipality has met with WSF.
“At this time, we have not received confirmation that the service will be suspended further but we are aware that Washington State Ferries may not be able to resume its international routes this spring,” said Humble, adding the municipality will make an announcement once WSF has informed Sidney to keep local residents and businesses aware.
“While it would be disappointing to see the Sidney-Anacortes ferry service suspended for part or all of 2022, we recognize that every organization is facing hurdles as a result of the pandemic, including staff shortages.”
While Sidney-Anacortes isn’t a major route in Washington’s ferry system – accounting for 0.5 per cent of the system’s total passengers in 2019 – it bears significant historical, cultural and economic significance for the region, which was recognized by Humble.
“The Sidney-Anacortes ferry has been in service for a century since the route began on a converted kelp carrier at the foot of Beacon Avenue in 1922,” he said. “It has long supported local tourism while connecting friends and families as a gateway to the U.S. The Town of Sidney remains committed to the ferry service. We look forward to seeing the Chelan arriving on the shores of Sidney’s waterfront again in the future.”
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