International ferry sailings between Sidney and Anacortes won’t resume until late April because of COVID-19.
Washington State Ferries (WSF) announced Tuesday afternoon that it has pushed back scheduled sailings to Sidney to at least April 28. Initial plans had called for sailings to resume on March 29 following its annual three-month shut down during the slower winter months.
“The suspension of the route serving Anacortes, and Sidney, British Columbia, comes as a result of the recent closure of the Canadian border to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” said a release from WSF.
The Sidney-Anacortes routes is arguably the least important route in Washington State’s ferry system in terms of numbers. In 2019, the route with its 115,836 passengers, according to official statistics, accounted for 0.5 per cent of the system’s total passengers. It is, however, of considerable economic importance for the Town of Sidney specifically and Greater Victoria generally.
WSF said in its release that it is “continually monitoring” Canadain and U.S. state and county COVID-19 guidelines and directives. “Plans are ready to limit service or passenger capacity on other routes if ridership declines further or based on evolving health guidelines,” it reads.
The decision to close the US-Canada border, breaking late Tuesday night and confirmed Wednesday morning, does not affect trade.
While not surprising, the decision to push back the resumption of sailings comes amid growing concerns about the long-term survival of the route due to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year.
All three versions of Washington State’s budget did not include funding for the MV Elwha, one of two vessels in the WSF fleet certified for the international crossing, along with the MV Chelan. That vessel is said to receive full funding.
If WSF retires the 53-year-old Elwha with its long history of repairs, the Chelan would remain the only vehicle certified to make the international crossing, a situation that would threaten the reliability of service between the two communities, as WSF would lack a back-up vessel.
A second issue concerns the possibility that WSF may press the Chelan into service on domestic routes in case other vessels break down, but these issues remain academic for now as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.
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