Island Aurora, which began operating in June 2020, is the second of a series of hybrid-electric ships designed for future full electric operation
Like most in the ferry industry, Canadian operator BC Ferries was significantly impacted by the pandemic. Passenger traffic dropped about 40 per cent from around 22 million per year before Covid-19 to less than 14 million in the 2021 financial year due to travel restrictions and changes in customer behaviour because of the pandemic.
Despite the impact, BC Ferries recognised that its service is a lifeline for many coastal communities and tackled the challenge head on to ensure it could maintain essential crossings while keeping customers and crew safe.
“We developed rigorous cleaning and sanitisation plans for vessels and terminals,” says Corrine Storey, BC Ferries’ vice president and chief operating officer. “A mandatory face covering policy was implemented and we installed plexiglass partitions to reduce the risk of employee-customer transmission. Physical distancing measures were introduced, and we developed protocols for customers requiring quarantine while travelling, supported the safe transit for our crews on live-aboard vessels in central and northern British Columbia, and developed response plans in the event an employee tests positive for Covid-19.”
In autumn 2021, the federal government added a requirement for all ship-based employees to be vaccinated by late January 2022, so BC Ferries introduced its own Covid-19 policy for all other employees to be fully vaccinated.
“The Omicron wave added one more layer and seeing the impact it was having on businesses and workforces, we put our customers on notice in early January acknowledging the variant and associated crew shortages could impact our service,” says Storey. “Contingencies have been put in place and while there have been some disruptions, services have been maintained on all routes. Throughout it all, the company has also abided by all provincial health guidelines to ensure the health and safety of everyone.”
The company is now recovering from the impacts of the pandemic. In July, August, and September 2021 passenger numbers were almost 30 per cent higher than the same time in 2020 and its vehicle numbers were the highest ever – even pre-Covid. “The removal of travel restrictions has been a major factor, but we remain cautious,” says Storey. “The pandemic is still impacting all areas of our lives and if there is one thing we have learned through this experience, it is to be prepared for anything because the situation can change quickly.”
BC Ferries’ area of operation is 1,600 kilometres of pristine, untouched coastline in British Columbia. No surprise then that BC Ferries takes its obligations to the local environment very seriously.
“We have added four more battery-electric hybrid Island Class vessels for a total of six in our fleet. They are all fitted with hybrid technology that bridges the gap until funding and shore charging infrastructure becomes available,” says Storey
“We’ve also added one more LNG-fuelled Salish Class vessel for a total of four in our fleet. These ships run quieter and cleaner than diesel-powered vessels and help BC Ferries in its transition to a lower-carbon future while investing in sustainable technologies.”
Sustainability and environmental responsibility are core values at BC Ferries, according to Storey. “Our capital plan includes building new vessels and committing to fully electrifying our hybrid-powered Island Class vessels once shore charging infrastructure is in place. In addition to the four Salish Class vessels, we also converted our two Spirit Class vessels to operate on LNG several years ago. There are plans to upgrade and modify existing vessels to improve their carbon footprints, expand the use of renewable carbon-neutral fuels, improve our fleet maintenance unit, upgrade our terminals and renew our information technology systems.
BC Ferries has also been working to reduce its overall contribution of underwater radiated noise by 50 per cent and was one the first ferry operators to develop a Vessel Operation In The Presence Of Marine Mammals policy (in 2016), and an underwater radiated noise management plan (in 2019). “BC Ferries co-developed (with Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and Ocean Wise) a tutorial to educate mariners on Safe Navigation in the Presence of Whales (2019) and our bridge teams voluntarily report all sightings of whales to the BC Cetaceans Sightings Network. We were recognised as a ‘top reporter’ in 2019,” says Storey.
“Since 2014, BC Ferries has also been part of Green Marine, which is a voluntary environmental certification programme for the marine transportation industry. Green Marine aims to reduce the environmental footprint of marine operators by promoting a culture of continuous improvement and going above and beyond regulatory standards.”
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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