Existing reservations cancelled; essential travel the priority

SOUTH BAYMOUTH – The Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) announced that the Chi-Cheemaun ferry would begin sailing for essential travel on June 1.

A press release from the OSTC explained that the federal Minister of Transport issued an interim order to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 aboard passenger vessels carrying more than 12 passengers, prohibiting operations that are discretionary in nature, such as activities related to tourism and recreation, from operating in Canadian waters until June 30. 

Ferries that provide the most practical means to give passengers access to their home, residence or their place of employment, give passengers access to essential goods and services, transport cargo to resupply communities, business or industry, or provide other essential services, like the Chi-Cheemaun, are permitted to operate provided the service provider implements strict measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

MS Chi-Cheemaun will begin operating a transportation only service for a limited number of commercial and through travellers beginning on June 1 continuing through June 30. 

“This early service is in support of the many commercial carriers who normally use the ferry to transit between regions of Northern and southwestern Ontario and customers where the ferry is the most practical means of accessing their owned residences,” the press release explained. “The ferry service also provides an important second point of access to and departure from Manitoulin Island currently served only by the historic single lane swing bridge at Little Current. Ferry service will not be available for passengers engaging in tourism or recreational activities for the duration of the interim order.”

All passengers will be required to bring and wear face coverings for the duration of the crossing and must maintain a physical distance of two metres between themselves and other passengers and crew while on board. 

Susan Schrempf, OSTC president and CEO, told The Expositor that the Chi-Cheemaun’s normal permanent crew, largely from the east coast, began arriving earlier this month. The crew are deemed essential workers and received formal documentation allowing them to travel to the Bruce Peninsula for the next five months.

The Expositor asked Ms. Schrempf how passengers would be screened as to their purpose for travel. “We’re dependent on people being honest with us, using common sense and treating others how they wish to be treated,” she responded.

Ms. Schrempf said when passengers call to make a reservation they will be asked a series of questions on their reason for travel, which she would not divulge for fear of people trying to “scam the system.”

“The travel must be essential, not the workers themselves,” she added. “We’re dependent on people using their brains. Hopefully people will be honest so they don’t mess this up for those with commercial needs.”

The CEO said OSTC will be making announcements in the beginning of June as to how the summer sailing months will look and noted that neither the South Baymouth nor Tobermory terminals will be open to the public.

The following is a list of the Chi-Cheemaun’s COVID-19 mitigation measures: Spring sailing schedule will be followed for the duration of the interim order; only commercial customers and through travellers will be accepted on the vessel for the duration of the order. ‘Commercial’ is defined as: an essential service provider (hydro, telecommunications, and other), or commercial trucking of goods, livestock or other commodities. ‘Through traveller’ is defined as a non-commercial customer who is travelling for an essential purpose. All other reservations will be cancelled. OSTC will contact all reservation holders to screen for purpose of travel to cancel or re-book as required; online reservations will not be available for the duration of the order. Customers must make reservations via telephone to 800-265-3163 and will be screened for purpose of travel; vehicle capacity may be reduced depending on the number of persons in vehicles; passenger capacity under the interim order cannot exceed 50 percent of the vessel’s certified capacity. Chi-Cheemaun is permitted to carry up to 300 passengers under the interim order but will not exceed 125 passengers per crossing to ensure physical distancing is possible throughout the interior passenger spaces; all passengers, walk-on and in-vehicle, must make a reservation to ensure the passenger count meets the vessel’s physical distancing requirements; no passenger will be permitted to remain on the vehicle deck—passengers who refuse to leave their vehicle on the vehicle deck will be banned from all future use of the ferry; all passengers will be screened in accordance with Transport Canada’s interim order respecting passenger vessels and will be asked a series of questions pertaining to their health. Passengers who are not in possession of a face covering that covers the mouth and nose, which must be worn at all times, will be denied boarding. All passengers are required to bring and wear face coverings for the duration of the crossing and must maintain a physical distance of two metres between themselves and other passengers and crew while on board; no food, beverage or retail service will be available for passengers; no food or beverages may be brought on board or consumed by passengers (unless medically required and with prior notification to the ferry operator); and passenger spaces will be cleaned on a more frequent schedule with COVID-19 appropriate products.