B.C. Ferries cancelled 19 sailings over past week, majority due to lack of crew

B.C. Ferries passengers walk into the Tsawwassen ferry terminal in August 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
B.C. Ferries passengers walk into the Tsawwassen ferry terminal in August 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

B.C. Ferries says it was forced to cancel more than a dozen sailings over the past week, when many families across the province were on spring break, due to a lack of staff.

From Sunday Mar. 19 to Sunday Mar. 26, the operator said 19 trips were cancelled, with 17 caused from not having enough crew to operate vessels safely.

The other two were due to mechanical problems.

B.C. Ferries said in a statement to CBC News that the cancelled sailings were a tiny percentage of all scheduled trips for the week.

It said it completed 4570 sailings during the eight-day period.

"As a percentage B.C. Ferries delivered on 99.6 per cent  of scheduled sailings," it said. "Crew challenges impacted about 0.37 per cent of sailings and mechanical impacted about 0.04 per cent of sailings."

On social media, however, travellers caught by the cancelled trips vented their frustrations.

Hiring blitz

Earlier this month B.C. Ferries said it was addressing its staffing issues by undertaking a hiring blitz to recruit and retain staff.

The goal is to fill more than 500 casual positions for shoulder and peak season this year, with the recruitment campaign running from late February to April 15.

A report submitted to the B.C. Ferries Commissioner shows a 52 per cent increase in turnover among ferry employees over the last two years.

B.C. Ferries says there is a worldwide shortage of mariners, with fewer young people entering the marine sector, while many current staff are close to retirement.

The province also has a high employment rate, which is making it competitive to attract candidates.

"We are continuing to review ways of ensuring our job postings are attractive to both new and existing employees," said B.C. Ferries in an email statement to CBC News.

B.C. Ferries has mitigation plans in place, including cross-training people for multiple positions and offering overtime, but says onboarding more staff is critical for future smooth sailings.

In February, the B.C. government announced $500 million in new funding to B.C. Ferries to prevent rising fuel prices and inflation from spilling over into fare increases.

B.C. Ferries had a tumultuous summer in 2022 when it had to cancel sailings due to staffing. In July CEO Mark Collins was fired after there were 173 cancelled sailings in 28 days.

Worth of a reservation

The recent cancellations have passengers questioning the worth of paying for reservations within the system.

If a passenger had a reservation on a sailing that is cancelled, B.C. Ferries does not guarantee them a spot on the next available sailing, fitting them on only if there is space remaining.

"While a cancelled sailing can be challenging, unfortunate, and upsetting, bumping reserved customers from a sailing that hasn't been cancelled is a very difficult task to manage and justify," said a B.C. Ferries spokesperson in an email to CBC News on Saturday.
The operator issues refunds to travellers who choose not to travel on the day of their cancelled booking, or if they cannot be accommodated on another sailing that day.

Usually refunds take between one or two weeks, but in a notice on its website, B.C. Ferries says it's experiencing a high volume of compensation and refund requests currently, meaning refunds may currently take four to six weeks to be issued.

"To improve our response time, we are hiring additional staff and working on process improvements," said the statement.