Ferry Business - Autumn/Winter 2022

8 2 INTERV IEW Remaining optimistic Matthias Pahnke tells Justin Merrigan how FRS Clipper coped with extended pandemic restrictions and why he is confident the business and the wider ferry industry has a bright future Sailing between Seattle in Washington, USA and Victoria, British Columbia in Canada, FRS Clipper operates ferry services in what is unarguably one of the most beautiful regions of the world. However, in March 2020, the pandemic forced the closure of the border between the USA and Canada for discretionary travel, immediately halting FRS Clipper’s ability to operate its core international fastferry route. The pandemic subsequently shut down the Seattle-based company’s business for more than two years. Matthias Pahnke, CEO of FRS Clipper and recently appointed director and co-president of Interferry, says: “We remained hopeful that the border would reopen in 2020. Unfortunately, it remained closed, and the majority of the FRS Clipper team had to be laid off. We were only able to retain a handful of employees to maintain business continuity and prepare for our return to business. “In spring 2021, while still restricted from operating our international service, we were able to reinstate domestic operations with San Juan Clipper, which is owned by our US partner. We provided fast-ferry services between Seattle and Friday Harbor, Washington, as well as whale-watching tours from downtown Seattle in a great team effort involving both onshore staff and onboard crew.” While other parts of the world experienced a relatively normal summer in 2021, discretionary travel to Canada was only opened again at the end of the season and even then, was subject to significant restrictions with travellers being required to be fully vaccinated and provide a negative PCR test. Despite these headwinds, FRS Clipper attempted to restart its international service but the restrictions proved to be too much. “Demand was too low, and the restart had to be stopped,” says Pahnke. “After another period of planning and waiting, the PCR testing requirement was finally removed for fully vaccinated travellers entering Canada in April 2022 and we were able to resume international service. “We learned the hard way that ‘hope for the best, plan for the worst’ was truly the only ‘strategy’ that worked. From my perspective, however, it was not strategy that carried us through the pandemic; it was people, our shareholders and our employees. Our shareholders demonstrated incredible patience and trust, especially in 2021 when the rest of the world was reopening while FRS Clipper sat on the sidelines constrained by the lockdown of the US – Canadian border. “Our employees continue to demonstrate incredible dedication and resilience, grinding through the years to keep the company afloat and returning “ Our employees continue to demonstrate incredible dedication and resilience”