British Columbia

Ferry passengers stranded for hours overnight after electrical failure stalls sailing

Frustrated ferry-goers tweeted in fury as some waited on board in their vehicles for more than five hours just to get back to the terminal at Nanaimo, from where they'd departed on the 8:15 p.m. PT sailing, only to wait in line again for a refund.

Nanaimo-Tsawwassen ferry eventually towed back to terminal, then passengers had to wait in line for refunds

Passengers on board the Coastal Renaissance were stuck for hours at sea when the ferry's electrical system failed on a sailing from Nanaimo — and then had to line up for refunds at the terminal. (Matt Prunty)

It was a long night for 569 passengers and the crew of the Coastal Renaissance ferry, which ended up stranded for hours after engine trouble stalled a sailing from Nanaimo to Tsawwassen on Sunday.

Frustrated ferry-goers tweeted in fury as some waited on board in their vehicles for more than five hours just to get back to the terminal at Duke Point, from where they'd departed on the 8:15 p.m. PT sailing, only to wait in line again for a refund.

A BC Ferries spokesperson said that the ship experienced a mechanical failure due to an electrical issue and was forced to anchor off Jack Point, close to Duke Point, around 8:30 p.m. PT.

Matt Prunty says there was trouble within five minutes of sailing when the engine seemed to go silent. Then the massive anchors dropped.

"It was very loud — we didn't know what the noise was. We hadn't heard an anchor drop on a ferry before. It shakes the whole boat," said Prunty.

A tug boat arrived to tow the Coastal Renaissance back to Duke Point about four hours after it had left the terminal. (Matt Prunty)

He said an onboard announcement by the chief steward explained that a breaker had blown, affecting the ship's propulsion system. The crew attempted to fix the problem but eventually a tug boat arrived to tow the ferry back to the terminal, more than four hours after it had left.

But the journey wasn't over yet.

Passengers told CBC that once they docked, vehicles began unloading at 2 a.m. and were asked to line up at the terminal's kiosks to wait for refunds.

At the same time, people were scrambling to get a spot on the earliest ferry they could on Monday and many simply turned around to wait in line for the 5:15 a.m. sailing.

Vancouver actor Carlo Fortin was one of the passengers stuck on board who posted updates on the frustrating journey.

He said he didn't leave the terminal until 3:05 a.m. PT Monday — almost seven hours after the ferry was scheduled to leave.

BC Ferries spokesperson Astrid Chang apologized to the hundreds of passengers who she says were all refunded for the ordeal. She says passengers were given free food on the ship.

"Mechanical issues happen from time to time. I want to thank our crews for how they managed the evolving situation, especially so late at night. But we do apologize to our passengers who were inconvenienced," said Chang.

Fortin tweeted that he was unaware of any complimentary food on board.

Others said they avoided going on deck, given COVID-19 concerns.

Prunty and his partner, Lindsey, had the added stress of caring for an infant in their car, but he said their 5½-week-old son Lennox stayed calm throughout.

"He ended up sleeping through the whole thing. We were probably more stressed about the whole thing than he was," said Prunty.

He said he hopes next time ferry staff can deal with refunds while people are trapped for hours, instead of lining them up after a sleepless night in cars.

Lindsey Prunty juggles 5½-week-old Lennox, who spent most of the ferry delay sleeping. (Matt Prunty)

Roman Licko, from Whistler, B.C., said he got several texts from his son Stefan overnight detailing his hours-long attempt to try get to the mainland for a visit. 

He finally learned that Stefan, who lives in the Nanaimo area, was on the sailing at 7:45 a.m. — 14 hours after he'd begun his journey, including his initial wait at the terminal.

"What a circus. I'm unbelievably frustrated that they put those poor kids through this," Licko said. 

"Just a tiny bit of customer service and a little bit of thinking is all that's required here to manage this in a much better way."


Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist.


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