For the remote archipelago of Haida Gwaii off the province’s north coast, BC Ferries provides a critical link for essential supplies and medical appointments on the mainland.
But now, a crew shortage caused in part by staff falling ill with COVID-19 has shut down ferry service, and grocery stores are running low on produce, dairy products and meat.
“100 per cent of our supply line is through BC Ferries. We make reservations with them six months in advance,” said Sue Capern, CEO of Haida Gwaii Consumers Cooperative. “We get one ferry a week with those essential truckloads that are supplying both grocery stores.”
Several restaurants took to social media to alert customers they would be closing until more food deliveries arrived on the island.
There will be no passenger ferry trips between Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii until May 1, at the earliest.
The next available reservation for a standard size vehicle and driver leaving Prince Rupert is not until May 15.
“There’s a lot of people that are stranded over on the mainland, and in some cases with no money on them. And customer service at BC Ferries is that you’re on your own,” said Barry Pages, mayor of the Village of Masset. “I talked to one guy in the ferry parking lot. He’s got his dog with him. And he’s literally going to be sleeping in his car waiting for the next ferry because he can’t afford to buy a plane ticket home.”
BC Ferries declined a CTV News interview request but in an email did say people left stranded should send the company receipts for additional expenses.
The email was vague and in a response to a follow up with questions, BC Ferries did not make it clear who would be eligible for reimbursement and what kind of expenses might be covered.
“I did ask BC Ferries who was going to be paying for the week of accommodations. You know, it’s not cheap over here – $200 to $300 per night for a two-bedroom cabin that allows dogs,” said traveler Jeannine Knox, who originally had a reservation to leave Haida Gwaii on Tuesday after spending a few days in a remote cabin .
She said BC Ferries told her in a phone call that she would not be eligible for any additional expenses, despite her departure date being pushed back by a week.
“It’s actually quite embarrassing BC Ferries chooses to continue to behave like this. It’s really appalling, ”said Knox, who was fortunate to be in a position to pay for her extended accommodations.
CTV News also requested an interview with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming, but his office provided a statement instead.
“While BC Ferries is a private corporation responsible for its own operational matters, the ministry will be discussing its concerns with BC Ferries including potential remedies to supplement the recruitment efforts already underway,” said the statement, which was attributed to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“BC Ferries has really got to start ramping up their service levels. This is our marine highway and it’s open three times a week,” said Pages. “We’ve got three sailings a week, if they’re actually sailing.”
Late in the day, BC Ferries sent another email saying a vessel would be leaving Prince Rupert to bring cargo to Haida Gwaii Tuesday evening.
As of 5 pm, Capern, who manages the store waiting for some of that perishable cargo, said that information had not been relayed to her.