British Columbia

BC Ferries fast tracks new vessel to avoid long weekend travel mayhem

After two recent and major disruptions during peak travel times, B.C. Ferries has announced it is fast tracking the launch of the new Salish Raven on the Tsawwassen—Southern Gulf Islands route.

The Salish Raven will launch this Thursday — 2 months early — on the Southern Gulf Islands route

BC Ferries says the Salish Raven has been cleaned since the corporation learned a passenger with measles was on the ship from Tsawwassen-Mayne Island on Aug. 31, 2018. (BC Ferries)

After two major and recent disruptions during peak weekend travel times, B.C. Ferries has announced it is fast tracking the launch of the new vessel, Salish Raven, on the Tsawwassen—Southern Gulf Islands route. 

The Salish Raven wasn't supposed to enter service for two months but continuing problems with the 53-year-old Queen of Nanaimo means it will now join the fleet August 3, just in time for the B.C. Day long weekend.

"As it became more apparent that the Queen of Nanaimo was not going to be a quick fix, we wanted to put a larger vessel on the run," said BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

Marshall said some customers with reservations for this coming long weekend will have to rebook because the new Salish Raven has capacity for only 145 vehicles — 19 fewer than the Queen of Nanaimo.

"Our customer care centre is in the process of looking at all of those reservations," she said. "They are working where there are overages to move customers to other sailings."

The 164-car-capacity Queen of Nanaimo broke down and was pulled from service last Friday, replaced by the much smaller Bowen Queen which can only accommodate 61 cars. That left the BC Ferries booking system in upheaval and travelers scrambling to change plans and reservations.

CEO apologizes

On Monday, BC Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins issued an apology.

Back in June, after propeller problems on the Queen of Nanaimo caused similar mayhem along the route, he called the problems "unacceptable." 

The frustration felt by Southern Gulf Island travellers mirrors that of ferry-dependant Powell River, where residents endured frequent service disruptions because of the aging Queen of Burnaby.

That vessel, like the Queen of Nanaimo, was kept in service years past its original retirement date, while the replacement Salish-class vessels were being built in Poland.

BC Ferries was a Crown corporation before the B.C. Liberals transformed it into an independent commercial organization in 2002.

Marshall said the B.C. Day long weekend is extremely busy for BC Ferries and staff will be monitoring routes closely. 

"We are putting the new vessel into service Thursday afternoon," she said. "We've got lots of people with a lot of eyeballs on it to make sure it goes smoothly for the weekend."