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Coastal Renaissance return to service delayed again, BC Ferries says

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BC Ferries expects to serve more than 900,000 passengers during the upcoming holiday season, and says it will be able to do so without one of its largest vessels, which remains out of service for repairs.

Work on the Coastal Renaissance "will take longer than originally anticipated," the provincial ferry operator said in a statement Wednesday.

Deborah Marshall, the Crown corporation's executive director of public affairs, told CTV News via email that the company doesn't currently have a "return to service" date for the ship, which has been out of commission since one of its drive motors failed in mid-August.

BC Ferries initially estimated that the Coastal Renaissance would be out of service into October, but it has turned out to be unavailable for even longer. 

"While the vessel was expected to return to service in December, there was an issue identified during the final testing that requires further investigation," the company said in its statement.

"The company anticipates being able to provide a media briefing on its broader retrofit plans early in the new year."

Marshall stressed that while the vessel will not be ready for the increase in ferry traffic that typically starts in mid-December, the loss of the Coastal Renaissance won't affect the holiday season.

According to the company's statement, the Coastal Celebration – which was, itself, taken out of service unexpectedly for repairs over the summer – will sail in its sister vessel's place on the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route. 

"Any customer affected by the minor schedule adjustments will be notified," the statement reads. 

BC Ferries says it will have "four major vessels" operating on the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route in December, with a carrying capacity of 55,000 passengers and 10,500 vehicles per day on the busiest days.

Asked at the legislature Wednesday whether the public should have confidence in the ferry system given the extended period the Coastal Renaissance has been out of service and the difficult summer BC Ferries experienced, Transportation Minister Rob Fleming answered affirmatively.

"They should be (confident) because the company has seen some improvement, having had difficulties over the early long weekends in the summer," he said. "They performed much better over B.C. Day weekend and Labour Day weekend."

Fleming said BC Ferries has had "a very successful year with hiring and retention," noting that the company has hired 1,200 employees in 2023 so far.

"BC Ferries is aware and taking some major steps and using the $500 million, quite frankly, that our government gave to stabilize rates and allow them to engage in additional training and recruitment and retention activities to put the company on a better footing, and that's what you're seeing happen," he said.

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