BC Ferries has confirmed that the Northern Sea Wolf won’t set sail until at least July 20 – more than one month after its scheduled first sailing of June 19.
“We had planned to have the vessel in service by the beginning of the summer season, but due to the ship being delivered later than planned and the work required to modernize the ship to bring it to BC Ferries’ standards of safety and reliable service, we cannot meet the June 19 in-service target,” said Darin Guenette, BC Ferries Manager, Public Affairs. “We now expect the Port Hardy – Bella Coola direct service to begin July 20.”
BC Ferries said that they had hoped to acquire the vessel in September of last year, but they didn’t actually get the vessel into the Esquimalt dry dock until last December.
To further complicate matters, the company has been switching to a new reservations system and many customers who believed they booked on the Northern Sea Wolf will actually be traveling on the Nimpkish. BC Ferries is just in the process of informing those customers of this change this week, with tour operators being the first to be informed.
“Our online schedule pages will be updated to reflect this delay. This will include new schedules for mid-Coast service, using the Nimpkish, between June 19 and July 19. As well, we are now reaching out to all customers that had made bookings for sailings between June 19 and July 19 to provide them with new travel options. Finally, we are adding two weeks of service to the Port Hardy – Bella Coola direct route beyond the original end date of October 1; these sailings will be new options for customers to book,” said Guenette.
“Once all previous bookings have been moved, we will start contacting customers who had made bookings for the Port Hardy-Bella Coola direct service in the June 19 – July 19 period and explain their options for rebooking or cancelling their plans.”
Local and regional tourism operators have heavily promoted the route for almost a year. The revelation that the vessel will not be ready has been difficult for operators to receive.
“We were disappointed to hear that those passengers who thought they would be traveling on the Northern Sea Wolf will actually be traveling on the Nimpkish,” said BCVT President Tom Hermance. “As much as we cannot control this situation, I know that many operators feel badly that their guests are not going to receive the trip they originally booked.”
Guenette said that BC Ferries is planning to extend the sailings by two weeks at the end of the season to make up for the late start. This would mean the season would end mid-October instead of September 30. However, Bella Coola Valley Tourism would rather see an earlier start next season, as it’s more in line with visitor demand.
“Operators are encouraged to track June-July cancellations due to the ferry service and report their losses to BCVT,” said Hermance. “We would like to see compensation in the form of an earlier start to next year’s summer ferry schedule, as tourists are already starting to arrive in Valley.”
The route has already proven to be very popular, with many sailings nearing capacity well into August.
The Northern Sea Wolf ferry travelled over 1000 nautical miles from Greece and is currently docked at Ogden Point. BC Ferries paid $12.6 million for the 17-year-old vessel, and the Esquimalt Drydock was awarded contracts worth $20 million to completely refit the 246-foot-long ship. It will have room for at least 35 vehicles and 150 passengers and crew.
The upgrades, described as “extensive,” were meant to start in early November of 2017, but the vessel didn’t even arrive until December. This late start has put the entire process well behind schedule.
According to BC Ferries, preliminary estimates were that about 3,500 passengers and 1,200 vehicles will be on the ferry per year. Local and international tourists are expected to ride it.
Tourism operators are already pushing for a longer season for 2019, but BC Ferries has said that because the route is heavily subsidized by the government, the province would have to be involved in any decision to prolong it.