British Columbia

Alaska cancels Prince Rupert, B.C., ferry service

Starting Oct. 1, residents in Prince Rupert, B.C., will no longer have access to Alaska by ferry, after the state decided to end the service. 

U.S. officials say they couldn't secure Canadian law enforcement needed to continue service

U.S. officials say they were unable to find Canadian staff to protect American personnel doing passport and contraband checks at the Prince Rupert terminal. Passengers and vehicles boarding Alaskan ferries are routinely checked by U.S. customs officials at the Prince Rupert ferry terminal in a 'pre-clearance' system. (Prince Rupert Port Authority)

Starting Oct. 1, residents in Prince Rupert, B.C., will no longer have access to Alaska by ferry, after the state decided to end the service. 

The decision comes after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) put in place a requirement to have Canadian law enforcement at the Prince Rupert terminal to protect American personnel doing passport and contraband checks. 

U.S. officials say Canada was not able to meet that requirement. 

"This is not a budget issue, this is a staffing issue," said Meadow Bailey with the Alaska Department of Transportation. 

To comply with the new requirements, a Canadian officer would be needed once a week during the winter months and twice a week during the summer. 

"The Royal Canadian Mounted Police really did not have staffing that they were able to divert from what their normal duty is in the City of Prince Rupert to be able to dedicate entirely to the ferry," said Bailey.

7,000 passengers per year 

U.S. transportation officials have received multiple emails and calls from people who are upset with the news, Bailey added. 

The route sees about 7,000 passengers and 4,500 vehicles every year.

Service could be restored in the future, Bailey added, but only if the CBP requirement changes or if RCMP officers become available. 

In an emailed statement, Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brian called the situation "unfortunately complex" and said he will travel to Juneau on Sept. 16 to meet with Alaskan officials to discuss potential solutions. 

Lee says the Alaskan government has been going through significant budget challenges and has selected routes on the Alaska Marine Highway System, including Prince Rupert, for potential closure

While, he says,  the City of Prince Rupert "explored all options" to provide RCMP officers to support American personnel at the Prince Rupert terminal, the money needed to hire them could not be covered by the city or the Alaskan government.

Further complicating the situation, he says, is the need for structural upgrades to the AMHS dock in Prince Rupert. Despite the challenges, Lee says he is still optimistic.

"I don't believe this is the end of the ferry service to Prince Rupert," he said. "I believe this issue can be solved."

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