BC Ferries ordered to limit ship capacities by 50%, conduct passenger health checks

Apr 5 2020, 7:30 pm

New federal regulations for ferries and other passenger vessels operating within Canadian jurisdiction will go into effect on Monday, April 6 to further the reduce the risk of COVID-19’s spread onboard vessels.

These new policies have a direct impact on BC Ferries, which is of course by far the largest ferry service in the country.

Transport Canada announced Sunday that all commercial vessels with a capacity for more than 12 passengers will be temporarily banned from operating non-essential trips, including activities for tourism and recreation. This suspension will last until at least June 30.

Essential service vessels such as BC Ferries can continue to operate, but they must only carry up to half loads — a capacity reduction of 50%. This will help support the practice of physical distancing onboard vessels.

Prior to boarding a sailing that is over 30 minutes in duration, federal regulators are requiring all passengers to undergo a health check, with staff asking passengers questions such as whether they have fever, a cough, and/or difficulty breathing, as well as if they have been refused boarding in the past 14 days due to a medical reason related to the coronavirus. Another question will seek an answer on whether passengers are subject to a public health order.

Anyone who answers in the affirmative or does not provide an answer will be denied boarding. Prior to the brief interview, passengers will be informed of the requirement to answer truthfully.

Additionally, Transport Canada is also mandating staff to visually observe for symptoms that a passenger is unwell.

Before the boarding process, passengers are to be notified of the new health screening protocol, such as messaging on electronic tickets, signage, and voice announcements.

Foot passengers should also be told by staff to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from other individuals while in line.

“The safety and security of the travelling public and Canada’s transportation network are my top priorities,” said federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau in a statement.

“These new measures will help reduce the spread of COVID-19, while continuing to support the continued movement of goods through the supply chain, and ensuring Canadians can access their homes, jobs, and essential services in a safe manner.”

Following Transport Canada’s regulations, BC Ferries will enact the new health screening protocols tomorrow. The vast majority of its routes have a one-way sailing time in excess of 30 minutes.

However, BC Ferries’ latest operations already meet the new capacity limits, as its vessels have been operating well below capacity for weeks due to the collapse in traffic — an 80% decline.

The ferry corporation has made very significant cuts to its services to reduce its operating costs in response to the drop in fare revenue. The latest round of cuts that began over this past weekend include the suspension of the Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo route until further notice, and the reduction of the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route to just four sailings each way per day.

With less ships running, several hundred people with the company have already been laid off.

Other preventative measures already in place include allowing passengers to remain in their vehicles on enclosed decks, closing non-essential food and retail options on vessels and at terminals, and enhanced cleansing and disinfecting.

The federal government’s new measures today also entail a ban on Canadian cruise ships from mooring, navigating, or transiting in Canadian Arctic waters, including the Labrador coast. This ban will remain in place until at least October 31, and it is in addition to the general ban on cruise ship carrying over 500 people — both passengers and crew — until at least the end of June.