Delays on ferries blamed on COVID-19, crew shortages

More problems have cropped up with Washington State Ferries.  Some passengers have been waiting for hours to get out of the San Juan Islands today.

This latest round of delays is due to an engine crew that had to quarantine because of COVID-19.

This has been especially difficult for those on Lopez Island who simply couldn’t get off the island by ferry.

And they won’t be able to until 6:20 p.m. Tuesday night, a delay of about three and a half hours.

These cancelations have ripple effects throughout the ferry system.

The line of waiting vehicles wasn’t especially long at the Anacortes ferry dock. But the wait surely was, especially for a Tuesday.

We met Erica Jussero, who had a two o’clock reservation. Fifteen minutes later, she and her brood of five were still waiting for the 4 o’clock boat to Friday Harbor.

They said a couple of boats had been canceled because they didn’t have enough workers,” said Jussero. “So, I just smiled and tried to take it in turn. And the lady said ‘you have a good attitude.’ So, I’m trying to have a good attitude.”

She was certainly not alone.

“I’ve never been out there,” said Keyna Bugner of Ellensburg.  “I’ve never taken the ferry. So, I was surprised it was taking this long, really.”

“We were here at noon,” said Nora Mitchem, of Newberg, Oregon. “So, we were here early because you never know. Maybe they’ll let you on earlier.”

There was no chance of that.  After all, the MV Suquamish spent most of the day sitting in the harbor, unable to move because there wasn’t an early crew to staff it.

“Better than a handful of people that have been exposed or have been quarantined because of COVID,” said Ian Sterling.

But WSF’s spokesman said the coronavirus wasn’t the main issue.

The primary driver is a shortage of qualified mariners worldwide right now,” said Sterling.  “And we have to compete with the for-profit companies to try to get these folks.”

Indeed, Sterling said the impact is felt across all ten ferry routes.  But it can be crippling for the San Juan Islands because the ferry is the main way to get there. Still, most passengers we talked to were taking the delay in stride.

“We were not expecting (the delay),” said Lindsay Allan of Kirkland. “But we went and played at the beach. Yeah, we’re making the best of it.”

There have been more than 100 round-trip sailings canceled systemwide since February.

But that is out of about 45,000 round trips since then.

Sterling said this was definitely the worst it had been in his five years with the ferry system.

But there was some good news. The Suquamish left on time with the evening crew.