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Passengers frustrated after being stranded on ferry for hours due to mechanical issue

Last Updated Jun 29, 2020 at 7:12 am PDT

Passengers were stuck on board a BC Ferries vessel for hours Sunday night into Monday due to a mechanical issue. Many say they're not pleased with how BC Ferries handled the situation. (Submitted)

Some passengers are frustrated with the way BC Ferries handled a mechanical issue Sunday night, stranding customers

The Coastal Renaissance ran into a mechanical issue just after it departed Nanaimo at 8:15 p.m.

Passengers didn't get off the boat until about 2:00 a.m. Monday

NANAIMO (NEWS 1130) – Tired and frustrated — that’s how some people say they’re feeling after being stranded on a BC Ferries vessel Sunday night for hours due to a mechanical issue.

The Coastal Renaissance left Duke Point at 8:15 p.m. for Tsawwassen when the engines stopped a few minutes into the trip.

“It was about five minutes into the sailing, there were three horn blasts from the ferry — which normally doesn’t necessarily mean a good thing — and then all of a sudden the anchor was put down and the boat came to a halt,” Aaron, a passenger on the ferry, told NEWS 1130 Monday morning. “At that point we waited five to 10 minutes, at least, before an announcement and the information came over the PA system, which was just that the anchor had been released and that there was a problem.”

The electrical issue that caused the mechanical failure forced the vessel to anchor off Jack Point. The boat was finally pulled back to Nanaimo by a tug boat about six hours later, at 2:00 a.m.

Passengers took to social media to air their frustrations with the ordeal, many complaining about a lack of information to those who were stuck on board the boat.

Aaron, who had been visiting family and was headed back to Vancouver for work, says there’s been a lack of accountability.

“The answer from any of the crew was just to call customer care, and just extremely frustrating there was no accommodations being made,” he said. “Lack of answers and lack of seemingly accountability. While they have all the staff trying to do what they could, at the same time, it almost seemed as though BC Ferries wasn’t equipped to deal with such a situation. And I don’t mean from an emergency perspective — they seemed to handle that aspect fine. But from being able to actually take care of customers and passengers and deal with appropriate communication in such circumstances.”

Carlo Fortin, who was also on board the Coastal Renaissance, tweeted it was a hassle for 570 people.

“Cool, man. captain just announced: ‘it is what it is’ — thanks for nothing,” he tweeted shortly after 11:00 p.m.

The journey didn’t end when passengers got back to land, either. Once back at the Duke Point terminal, Aaron says passengers were forced to wait in line.

“We proceeded to wait for another hour for ticket refunds and to be told there was nothing anybody could do at BC Ferries, that all inquiries need to go to their customer care line — which wasn’t open,” he explained. “In the meantime, as we sat outside of the terminal, there are no bathrooms, there’s no food, and if you lose the line, then you’re probably stuck catching a later boat yet.”

He notes the COVID-19 situation has complicated things further.

A delay in getting back to Vancouver means Aaron and many others are missing a day of work.

“So that’s going to be a loss of money out of my pocket,” he said, adding he saw delivery trucks stranded, too. “All around, bad situation.”

This isn’t the only emergency BC Ferries was forced to deal with this weekend. On Sunday, the Queen of Oak Bay and the Queen of Cowichan were called to assist while traveling between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo after a pleasure craft had capsized while taking on water. Three people were eventually rescued by the Coast Guard in the afternoon.

BC Ferries to review situation

BC Ferries tells NEWS 1130 it understands passenger frustrations, but notes staff did all they could to help passengers.

“We understand that this was a major disruption to a lot of people’s travel plans and we do apologize for the inconvenience,” Astrid Chang with BC Ferries said. “These are situations that we don’t take lightly and our crews and our teams worked very hard overnight to make sure the vessel could be sailing again first thing this morning.”

She says passengers were provided with complimentary food and beverage while the ferry was being towed back to Nanaimo.

“There was a sailing cancellation out of Tsawwassen last night, too,” she explained. “The Coastal Renaissance would have done a round trip, so the 10:45 sailing departing Tsawwassen was cancelled and customers at Tsawwassen who planned to travel through Duke Point,t hey were given the option to travel through Swartz Bay instead.”

BC Ferries will be reviewing what happened.

-With files from Dean Recksiedler