Launch of new ferry on Powell River-Comox route pushed back to mid-May

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BC Ferries breakdown cancels some Gulf Islands sailings

Some last minute tweaks have delayed the launch of a new ferry on the Comox-Powell River route, but BC Ferries says the Salish Orca will be ready to go into service later this month.

The vessel is the first in the BC Ferries fleet that is capable of being powered by liquid natural gas.

It was supposed to start operating between Comox and Powell River in April, but the 52-year-old Queen of Burnaby is still serving the route.

People in the ferry-dependent community of Powell River are growing impatient, said city councillor Karen Skadsheim.

"There's a delay for some reason and now, of course, that has set all of these sort of rumours rolling around in the community ... why the delay?" she said.

The issues with the Salish Orca are all minor in nature and are not related to the ship's ability to operate on liquid natural gas, said BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

"It is typical when you are putting a new vessel into service that there will be some technical issues that you obviously want to sort out before the ship goes into service," she said.

"We have been doing Transport Canada drills and we have also had a few issues with some sensors on doors. So, we have just been finalizing all that."

Time limited for Queen of Burnaby

The clock is ticking for BC Ferries.

The Queen of Burnaby was supposed to retire in the fall and special permission from Transport Canada was needed to keep it in service.

That certificate expires at the end of May, Marshall said, adding that BC Ferries is confident the new vessel will be ready to take over before then.

The Queen of Burnaby also had mechanical troubles last year and had to be pulled off the route. That required BC Ferries to shuffle vessels on the Sunshine coast runs to cover sailings and resulted in long delays during peak tourist season.

"Touch wood she doesn't spring another leak before the Orca gets into service," said Skadsheim.

BC Ferries also plans to put two other Salish Class vessels into service on Gulf Island routes later this year.

The Salish Eagle has arrived in B.C. waters and is being prepped for service. The Salish Raven is still enroute from the shipyard in Poland where the ferries were built.