Coho ferry service still on hold

Owners awaiting details after Canadian decision

PORT ANGELES — Black Ball Ferry Line officials were heartened by Monday’s announcement that fully vaccinated U.S. citizens will be allowed into Canada beginning Aug. 9, but they have yet to fix a date for resuming service between Port Angeles and Victoria.

Company co-owners Ryan Malane and Ryan Burles said Tuesday that hurdles stand in the way of resuming the several-times-daily sailings of the Coho across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which have been stalled since mid-March 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the speed bumps is the question of whether the nonessential travel that is being allowed by Canada for U.S. residents in three weeks will be reciprocated by U.S. officials for nonessential Canadian trips.

The lifting of the restriction on the U.S. side could be announced today, Black Ball officials said.

“I think we are all kind of anxiously awaiting the details,” Malane said.

The Canadian announcement “is certainly a step in the right direction, and we’re encouraged. However, we need to know what all of the requirements are going to be before we can make a complete decision on when we can get back to service,” he said.

Burles did not have much hope that the U.S. policy on Canadian travelers would change for now.

“We have to be realistic,” he said.

Burles said nuances in Canadian officials’ Monday announcement will need to be clarified before Black Ball can set a date for resuming service.

They include what form of proof of vaccination would be required, how passengers will be processed to abide by COVID-19 protocols and if U.S. travelers will need to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which Burles said costs about $100.

Travelers may have to use the Canadian government’s free ArriveCAN to provide their vaccination information when they enter Canada, Burles said.

Some of those answers could come today, Malane and Burles said.

Until U.S. officials decide to allow nonessential Canadian residents to travel to Port Angeles and other U.S. ports, he and Malane will have to decide whether it makes business sense to take American passengers north to Canada and not Canadian passengers south to the North Olympic Peninsula.

“It’s not that we couldn’t get going, but if we don’t have Canadians, and we don’t have day trippers, there are tough decisions to see if [the customers] will be there, and if they are having to pay $100 a person to get a PCR test, what will that do to travel,” Burles said Tuesday.

“We know [today] is when the U.S. could change it to include nonessential [travel being allowed].”

The Public Health Agency of Canada made its announcement Monday with an eye toward expanding entry into the country in September to the rest of the world.

“On September 7, 2021, provided that the domestic epidemiologic situation remains favourable, the Government intends to open Canada’s borders to any fully vaccinated travellers who have completed the full course of vaccination with a Government of Canada-accepted vaccine at least 14 days prior to entering Canada and who meet specific entry requirements,” the agency said in a press release.

“This preliminary step allows for the Government of Canada to fully operationalize the adjusted border measures ahead of September 7, 2021, and recognizes the many close ties between Canadians and Americans.”

Despite Canada’s announcement, Washington State Ferries will not be restarting its run between Anacortes and Sydney, B.C., any time soon.

“We’re excited to eventually be going back to Canada, but we’re not in a situation to start service for the foreseeable future this season,” ferry system spokesperson Ian Sterling said Tuesday.

“We’re having a lot of trouble hiring.”

The ferry system needs 30 to 60 days to fully restaff its vessels, Sterling said.

Service is unlikely to restart this summer, he added.

Malane said it would take Black Ball two to four weeks of lead time to resume sailings.

“Once we have more details and we know what the processes are going to be, we’ll have a better idea,” he said.

The Seattle-based company continues to pay for health insurance for its workers, whose incomes have been supplemented with two rounds from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

“Our goal is to see a bilateral opening,” Malane said. “That’s what we would hope to see, that both sides of the border are open to travelers.”

Officials from the Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told The Associated Press on Monday that U.S. officials have not indicated they plan to change current restrictions at the border.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said U.S. officials are reviewing travel restrictions.

“Any decisions about resuming travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts,” she said.

“I wouldn’t look at it through a reciprocal intention.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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