VANCOUVER -- While indoor dining is currently banned in B.C. restaurants and food courts, passengers aboard a BC Ferries sailing can still eat indoors at the ship’s cafeteria.

The ship cafeterias are exempt from the latest part of the province’s COVID-19 restrictions, and that’s leading the ferry workers’ union to renew its call for BC Ferries staff to be prioritized for early vaccines.

“It was an absolute shock to find out that we were still serving meals on board our sailings,” said BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union provincial secretary treasurer Brian Lallihe.

Lallihe said that the resulting risk of COVID-19 exposure is yet another reason why ferry crews should be included in the vaccination roll-out for essential workers.

Lallihe said that the fact that customers can still eat indoors, with their masks off, puts ferry workers at an increased risk to COVID-19.

The Easter long weekend was busier than usual, he said, although not as busy as pre-pandemic levels.

Lallihe says ferry crews should be included in the vaccination roll-out for essential workers. “Our members have been working right throughout this pandemic, delivering essential goods and services to the small communities, in close contact with the public and each other, and as a result, we absolutely need to be vaccinated.”

BC Ferries’ public affairs director Deborah Marshall said the provincial health officer confirmed their cafeterias can remain open “for take-out service.”

They can then take their meals and eat them in the cafeteria, on the outdoor deck, or in their car.

“We are not providing table service. It is a take-out meal,” she said.

Marshall said there is limited seating available inside, so passengers are being encouraged to eat outside or in their vehicle if they are parked on the upper car deck.

As for vaccinations, Marshall said some ferry workers have already received a shot. Those who work at Horseshoe Bay and on the northern route were vaccinated following a string of workplace COVID-19 cases, and she says the company is in talks with the province about vaccinating the rest of the workers.

“We continue to have that discussion with the province. We know it’s very challenging for them, because there are lots of competing interests,” she said.

Marshall said over the Easter weekend, passenger volume on the major routes was down about 63 per cent, and vehicle traffic was down about 46 per cent, compared to 2019, although commercial traffic has increased.

In an email to CTV News Vancouver, the health ministry said ferry cafeterias are exempt from the order because some crossings take a “significant amount of time” and keeping the cafeterias and their available seating open helps prevent crowding inside other parts of the ferries.

They said they will also be reviewing their essential workers immunization list based on the latest data and incoming vaccine supply.

“More details about the industries and sectors prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination will be available in the days and weeks ahead,” the ministry said.