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Marine border opening to U.S. travellers a relief to Victoria ferry provider

Restrictions lift Sept. 7 for U.S. travellers but COVID-19 protocols still in place
The Coho ferry sits idle at the Black Ball dock in Port Angeles, Wash. (Black Press Media file photo)

The assurance of B.C.’s marine border reopening in September is a relief, said one international ferry service provider, although its potential to revive tourism and revenue is damped by COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Canada’s Border Services Agency announced on Tuesday, Aug. 24 that fully vaccinated U.S. travellers can arrive on Sept. 6 to B.C.’s Alaska State Ferry Terminal, Washington State Ferry Terminal, Bellville Street Terminal and Blackball Terminal. The latter two depart from Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

As of Sept. 17, Clipper Vacations will have one sailing on weekdays from Victoria’s Bellville Street Terminal to Seattle at 5 p.m., and round trips on weekends originating in Seattle at 7:30 a.m. and returning from Victoria at 5 p.m., said the ferry line’s CEO David Gudgel. Bookings will open on Sept. 6.

Blackball Ferry Line will not resume its sailings between Victoria and Port Angeles, Wash. until the U.S.’s border restrictions are lifted, said co-owner Ryan Burles. Those restrictions are expected to be in place until at least Sept. 21. Canadian travellers to the U.S. comprise as much as 40 per cent of their usual sailings, he added.

READ ALSO: United States extends border restrictions for Canada, Mexico to Sept. 21

Burles said the approaching federal election caused fears that marine borders wouldn’t be opened until after the election, or later still in the event of a new government.

With Canadian marine borders confirmed to open in less than two weeks, the next greatest hurdle for ferries and the tourists they serve are PCR COVID-19 test requirements. The tests are required 72 hours prior to a border crossing and can cost $200 when done internationally, Gudgel said. While required, “there’s not going to be a situation where people just decide last minute they’re going to Victoria for the weekend,” he said. “It’s a damn challenge.”

A previous announcement on Aug. 9 that allowed land borders to open while excluding marine borders created incredible confusion for ferry services, said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in a statement that Gudgel and Burles echoed. Bellville Street terminal had its port of entry status revoked from a lack of use, Gudgel noted.

READ ALSO: As U.S. demurs, Canada welcomes vaccinated American citizens back across border

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