British Columbia

Police incident aboard B.C. Ferries ship leads to 1 arrest, 'significant' delays

B.C. Ferries could see more "significant delays" Friday on one of its major routes between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island after a police incident on board one of its ships overnight.

Passengers without reservations at Tsawwassen terminal should consider travelling another day: corporation

RCMP officers are seen on board B.C. Ferries Coastal Inspiration ship during a police incident on Thursday. One person was arrested as a result of the incident. (Supplied/Name Withheld)

B.C. Ferries saw "significant" delays and multiple sailing cancellations on one of its major routes between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island on Friday after a police incident on board one of its ships overnight.

Sailings on the route between Tsawwassen and Duke Point have been cancelled from 3:15 p.m. through the rest of the day, according to the ferry corporation. Other sailings on different routes that are going ahead from Tsawwassen, like those to Swartz Bay or the Southern Gulf Islands, are seeing delays because of heavy traffic and crew shortages.

"We will expect congestion on our three major routes ... for the remainder of the day," B.C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said in an interview. 

"If customers are thinking about travelling and we don't have a res, they might want to travel tomorrow instead ... we certainly apologize to our customers."

Marshall said passengers without a reservation should consider travelling from Tsawwassen on another day or understand they could be turned away. Those who show up without a reservation will be left sitting through multiple sailing waits.

The delays began with an incident onboard the 8:15 p.m. PT sailing from Duke Point to Tsawwassen on Thursday. RCMP officers were called to Coastal Inspiration for a "disturbance" between two men who were travelling together shortly after 9 p.m.

"They were acting quite strange, causing concern from the staff and employees on the ferry," said Nanaimo RCMP Const. Gary O'Brien.

The ship returned to Duke Point, south of Nanaimo, so police could board. O'Brien said one passenger was arrested for "intoxication, possibly by drugs," and officers were searching for the second man. 

"We are working on the premise that that person actually walked off the ferry at some point," O'Brien said in an interview Friday.

RCMP vehicles are seen at B.C. Ferries' Duke Point terminal south of Nanaimo, B.C., after a police incident on Thursday. (Supplied/Name Withheld)

A statement later said security footage showed a man leaving the ferry and getting into a waiting taxi. The investigation was being treated as a missing person's case.

The passengers' vehicle was impounded and towed off the ship and the man arrested was still in custody as of Friday morning, O'Brien said.

The remaining ferry passengers only completed their trip to the mainland hours later, docking well past midnight.

At around 1:30 p.m. PT Friday, O'Brien issued an update, saying the second individual had been located "safe and sound" by Nanaimo RCMP.

Police gave few details other than to say the man's vehicle had been returned and the investigation was now "concluded."

'This should never have happened'

Tiferet Welch says she was on board the Coastal Inspiration Thursday evening, parked a few vehicles away from the car that was impounded. 

She says the car was parked backwards, appeared to have remained on board from a previous sailing and the man associated with it who was arrested scared some of the people on board.

"There was an announcement that because of this car we were delayed," Welch told CBC's On the Coast.

"Passengers who witnessed this man, who I spoke with, said that the man was half naked. That there was visible drug paraphernalia. That the other passengers felt unsafe."

Welch says she doesn't understand why such an obvious security risk wasn't dealt with before the boat left port.

"Nanaimo police should have been called in there, even before our cars went on," she said. "Why was that left unattended?"

Welch says passengers were stuck in their cars for hours Thursday night with few updates and very little information. She feels there should be an investigation into how B.C. Ferries staff handled the incident.

"This should never have happened," she said. "Last night was not a staffing shortage. Last night was an incompetent decision made by leadership — and it could have gotten a lot worse."

Not enough ferry worker backfill

Sailings are cancelled Friday because there aren't enough staff to backfill those who worked Thursday.

Both ships on the route between Tsawwassen and Duke Point were ultimately affected Thursday: the Coastal Renaissance was delayed because it couldn't dock in Duke Point while the Coastal Inspiration was waiting for the police incident to end.

Marshall said there were 33 staff on each ship, so 66 ferry workers were stuck on overtime and could not work Friday.

"Last night, we had crews work excessively long hours — up 16 hours on two of our vessels — so we have had to stand those crew members down for today because, of course, they need the necessary rest," she said.

"We're not able to backfill that many people on such short notice."

LISTEN | B.C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall addresses mass cancellations:

A police incident on-board the ship "Coastal Inspiration" caused delays and cancellations between Tsawwassen and Duke Point today. BC Ferries says staffing is at the heart of the issue. We'll chat with public affairs executive director Deborah Marshall, as well as Provincial President of the BC Ferry & Marine Workers' Union, Eric McNeely. And in our second half, how can we make our trails and outdoor spaces more inclusive for racialized, disabled and gender-diverse people? We'll chat with Judy Kasiama of Colour the Trails.

With files from Breanna Himmelright, Liz McArthur and On The Coast