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BC Ferries breakdown adds stress to busy summer at the terminals

Backup ferry only available on Tsawwassen-Duke Point route two days a week
The BC Ferries vessel the Coastal Renaissance will be out of service for weeks with a mechanical problem. (News Bulletin file photo)

BC Ferries is going to have to pull the engine out of its broken-down ferry and have a closer look before it knows the extent of the problem.

The Coastal Renaissance, which broke down Thursday, Aug. 17, has now been towed across the Strait of Georgia from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo’s Departure Bay terminal before it goes to the shipyard for repairs.

BC Ferries held a press conference Friday, Aug. 18, to provide an update on the first phase of its response plan to the breakdown. The ferry, which had been handling sailings on the Tsawwassen-Duke Point major route, is expected to be out of service for weeks.

Nicolas Jimenez, BC Ferries CEO, said the engine will need to be physically removed from the vessel, an operation that will require specialized equipment.

“This is going to take a fair bit of time for us to really understand the nature of the damage, because it’s housed in the casing where you can’t actually see it, so we’re going to have to get inside, remove the engine and inspect it,” he said.

As the Coastal Renaissance is repaired, Jimenez said another vessel is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so no sailings will need to be cancelled on those days. However, no other cancelled sailings on other days of the week will be able to be salvaged. BC Ferries considered adding sailings earlier in the morning and later in the evening, but decided it wasn’t possible.

“We are unfortunately not able to do that given operational constraints,” the CEO said. “The ships are already running 20 hours of the day. They tie up after midnight and they get going again early in the morning around 5 a.m. … The ships need time overnight in order for us to do the daily maintenance that’s required to keep them running safely and successfully.”

RELATED: Engine failure will take Nanaimo-Tsawwassen ferry out of service for weeks

BC Ferries has been busy contacting affected travellers, and will do so as long as necessary, Jimenez said. The company knows travellers will be continued to be impacted over the coming weekends, considering the looming Labour Day long weekend and the recent overflow traffic at Horseshoe Bay terminal. Jimenez said BC Ferries has upped its traffic control efforts there, secured West Vancouver Police Department presence on site, fully staffed its ticket booths and added terminal staff to ensure communication with travellers.

Asked about perceptions of diminished trust in BC Ferries, the CEO said he understands travellers’ frustration when sailings gets cancelled. The Coastal-class vessels, which entered service in the mid-2000s, are generally among the most reliable in the fleet, he said, and so this week’s breakdown is “unexpected, unusual and obviously very complicated.”

Jimenez said only 0.3 per cent of BC Ferries sailings get cancelled due to mechanical issues.

“They’re generally pretty good, pretty reliable – 99.7 per cent,” he said. “That doesn’t mean much to somebody who’s had their trip on whatever day disrupted.”

RELATED: Nanaimo-Tsawwassen ferry breaks down, could be out for weeks

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