B.C. Ferries: 40 per cent of cancellations due to crew shortages

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The number of cancelled B.C. Ferries sailings due to staffing shortages more than doubled in the 2023 fiscal year compared to the previous year — comprising 40 per cent of all ferry cancellations, according to the company’s latest annual report.

There were 1,163 cancellations due to crew shortages in the fiscal year ending March 31, up from 522 in 2022.

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The spike is even more startling when compared to 2020, when 25 sailings were cancelled due to staffing issues, and in 2021, with 109.

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“While cancelling trips in response to weather conditions or vessel mechanical issues is not unusual, we are experiencing a higher number of trips cancelled due to our inability to secure required crew,” said the B.C. Ferries report.

“Like many other industries, we are facing a shortage of skilled workers, an aging workforce and higher levels of illness.”

Crew-related cancellations made up the largest cancellation type category, surpassing weather (757 cancellations) and mechanical reasons (648).

Another 318 sailings were scrapped due to other reasons, including incidents at terminals or vessels, traffic accidents where the crew cannot get to the terminal, and lack of demand for sailings.

In total, 2,886 sailings were cancelled, making up 1.6 per cent of the 177,582 scheduled sailings in the year.

Persistent ferry cancellations have plagued the ferry company this year, affecting major routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland and smaller routes across the network. 

The B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, which represents 4,500 ferry workers, said wages are too low to attract and retain workers. B.C. Ferries and the union are slated to start negotiating mid-contract wage adjustments this month.

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In a previous interview, B.C. Ferries CEO Nicolas Jimenez told Postmedia it’s no secret the company is navigating rough business waters.

“We’ve done a lot in the last year to really address these critical staffing issues, but these problems won’t go away — certainly not in a week or a month,” he said in June. “It’s going to take a while for us to rebuild the resilience that we might have once had a number of years ago in the business.”

Jimenez said there is also a global shortage of marine workers.

B.C. Ferries has hired 900 employees between January and June this year, but is bracing for an exodus of 450 to 700 marine-certified employees expected to retire in the next five years, according to the ferry service’s filing to regulator B.C. Ferries Commissioner. It estimates 181 vacancies for marine-certified employees in 2024 alone.

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— with files from Katie DeRosa

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