B.C. Ferries has halted service between Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii after a number of employees tested positive for COVID-19, preventing passengers and goods from getting between the mainland and the archipelago off B.C.'s North Coast.
Sailings on the Northern Adventure between Prince Rupert and Skidegate in Haida Gwaii have been cancelled from Sunday to early Friday, April 29.
Sailings from Bella Bella on the Central Coast and Port Hardy on the northeastern tip of Vancouver Island have also been affected.
B.C. Ferries said it plans to make cargo runs from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii, which is home to more than 4,000 people, to transport essential supplies on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
The corporation said it is also working to charter the following flights between Prince Rupert and Skidegate for passengers on a first-come, first-serve basis on Wednesday:
Depart Prince Rupert: 10:50 a.m.
Arrive Skidegate: 11:15 a.m.
Depart Skidegate: 11:35 a.m.
Arrive Prince Rupert: Noon
Depart Prince Rupert: 1:10 p.m.
Arrive Skidegate: 1:35 p.m.
"Every attempt will be made to prioritize passengers who were previously booked for medical-related travel," a statement read.
John Camp and his wife are in Prince Rupert and trying to get home to Masset, a fishing village in Haida Gwaii. Camp's wife suffered a serious ankle injury on Easter Sunday and required a medical evacuation to Prince George, B.C.
After she underwent surgery, they tried to get on a ferry Sunday night, but the sailing was cancelled. They have been staying at a Prince Rupert hotel ever since.
Camp said he's been generally happy with B.C. Ferries' service but he questions why it wasn't better prepared for the possibility of COVID-related staff shortages.
"It's really hitting us hard because it seems like the corporation really didn't have any backup plan and from our perspective they still don't have a plan on how they're going to deal with with this situation," he said.
Camp said they are still not sure how they will get home, but they have booked a seaplane for Friday morning. If they take the flight, they're unclear on when their vehicle, which is carrying equipment needed for her recovery, will make it home.
They've incurred about $2,000 in expenses so far, Camp said.
B.C. Ferries said affected passengers should keep their receipts and contact customer relations to be considered for compensation.
Empty shelves in stores
Maureen Bailey, who lives in the village of Port Clements on Haida Gwaii, said the cancelled sailings on Sunday and Monday have led to empty store shelves with groceries stranded in Prince Rupert.
"It becomes precarious because you're waiting to see with the freight trucks that arrive ... if those fresh foods are in good order or if they're ruined," she said.
Bailey said living in a remote community often means having to plan groceries in advance.
"But having said that, when you don't know until the last minute that a ferry is not running, you start to look closely at your fridge contents and realize, you know what, there's things that I got to cut back eating or drinking for this week, whether it be milk or things that are essential," she said.
Kris Olsen, mayor of the village of Queen Charlotte, said the cancelled sailings highlight the need for a dedicated ferry to Haida Gwaii, and also the need for a dedicated barge to transport goods in times of emergency.
Olsen said the cancellations have led to "extreme" backlogs.
"We have elders over on the mainland for medical [treatment], we have people returning with newborn babies," he said.
"There's so many people that are trapped over on the mainland and trapped here on Haida Gwaii because of this."