Lack of workers means more BI ferry cancellations today

Since spring, Washington State Ferries crew shortages have led to numerous sailing cancellations between Bainbridge Island and Seattle.

Last Saturday was one of the worst situations as about a dozen were canceled on a day when passengers were trying to get to and from an important Seattle Mariners game against the Los Angeles Angels.

Then, suddenly the morning of Oct. 7, WSF announced because of a shortage of crew the route would be down to one boat all day. And now today, Oct. 8, BI is down to one ferry again for the entire day, meaning half the sailings are canceled.

Things may only get worse as Oct. 18 approaches. That is the deadline Gov. Jay Inslee has set for ferry workers and many others to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Like with teachers and nurses, that date is still set, even though shortages are already causing problems.

Ian Sterling, public information officer with WSF, said in an email Monday that the majority of their workers have been vaccinated.

“Most who are not will be separated from state employment Oct. 18 if they aren’t fully vaccinated by then,” Sterling said. “We don’t know yet how many employees may choose to leave on that date.”

Reasons for crew shortages are many, but they include getting COVID itself, quarantines due to the coronavirus and retirements, many possibly also related to the epidemic.

“There’s a global shortage of mariners as well as active COVID cases and quarantines that have exacerbated the situation,” Sterling’s email says.

As for last Saturday’s situation, initially eight sailings were canceled, from about 8 a.m. to after 2 p.m. both directions.

Sterling’s email says the Walla Walla was moved from Bainbridge to Bremerton, which has been on one boat service for some time, and a shortage of crew meant the route would have shut down completely. One reason for the decision was that it meant customers from Bremerton could have been stranded in Seattle after the Mariners game, so the call was made to run one boat service on both Bremerton and Bainbridge.

The Tacoma remained on the route until the Walla Walla returned. As it ended up, more sailings actually were canceled, as the second ferry didn’t return until after 9 p.m.

“I have not heard of any long backups caused by the move, though I’m sure it was an inconvenience for many people,” Sterling’s email says.