People living along the west coast were startled to find out the MV Lady Rose will sail for the last time on August 31. For more than 75 years, Port Alberni-based Lady Rose Marine Services has delivered tourists, locals and essential goods to remote west Island communities and lodges. But, in a couple of weeks, the reliable delivery service will end.
COVID-19 hit the company hard. Tourism and coastal travel dried up, hammering the company’s income. And despite the reopening of the economy, owner Mike Surrell says he has been unable to attract qualified staff and mariners.
“Due to the difficulties of COVID-19 and crewing, Lady Rose Marine will no longer be able to continue services,” company owner Mike Surrell said Monday in a statement.
Surrell’s company offered daily service to Bamfield, Ucluelet and the Broken Group Islands. It began with the historic MV Lady Rose, which was built in Scotland in 1937 for the Union Steamships Company of British Columbia. It became the first single-prop diesel ship to cross the Atlantic on its own power. In 2007, the Lady Rose was replaced by the MV Frances Barkley. MV Frances Barkley was built in 1958 in Norway and was brought to Port Alberni in 1990.
Surrell, who bought the company in 2008, said he did everything he could to keep the company afloat. But 17 months of zero income heading into winter was the final straw.
Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne called the closure a “tough blow” for coastal communities.
“[T]his outcome is certainly not what anyone hoped for,” Osbourne, the NDP’s Minister of Municipal Affairs, told the Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News. But, she added, “Mike Surrell and his team have poured their heart into this company and have been so dedicated to serving residents, businesses and visitors to Barkley Sound. I also want to acknowledge the employees and clients who will be impacted by this change.”
Communities and people who depend on Lady Rose Marine‘s service to move people, as well as food and other supplies, are wondering what’s next.
The owners of Broken Islands Lodge, located on Alberni Inlet, will be scrambling to figure out how to get staff and groceries to their operation. The lodge owns two water taxis and is looking into the possibility of putting them to use after September 1 for people needing service up and down the Inlet.
“This is new for us. We haven’t done a feasibility study at all. What we’ve looked at is our short-term needs,” Shannon Williams, one of the lodge’s owners, told the Westerly News.
Local First Nations are also concerned about the loss of Lady Rose. Trevor Cootes, an executive council member in Anacla, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations’ village next to Bamfield, said residents rely on the ship to deliver everything from building materials to drug prescriptions.
“Our citizens will often take the Frances Barkley for medical appointments in town” instead of driving, he added. “It’s a well-used mode of transportation for our citizens. We’ll definitely be feeling it.”