Lady Rose Marine Services has seen a marked increase in students taking its passenger vessel to Bamfield in the weeks following a tragic bus accident on the gravel road leading to the coastal Vancouver Island community.
Two students from the University of Victoria were killed and several others injured when a bus rolled over an embankment at the 36-kilometre marker of the gravel Bamfield Main road, near the Carmanah Main Junction, on Sept. 13.
The bus, carrying 48 people including first-year marine biology students from UVic, was enroute to Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre for a weekend workshop.
“We’ve been inundated (with) students going to the marine station, which is good,” Lady Rose Marine Services owner Mike Surrell said.
“We’re doing a special rate for kids. Because of the incident that happened with the bus we’ve purposely dropped our rate to less than half so students can afford to get to the marine station.”
The MV Frances Barkley passenger and cargo vessel makes regular sailings on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to Bamfield, and Surrell said learning institutions have also been booking charters for alternate days.
“We’ve been finding some of the classes have been doing their teachings while they’re sailing,” he added.
Surrell has teamed up with Bill Surry from the Alberni Athletic Hall to provide accommodation for students the night before early-morning sailings.
“After the accident I talked with Mike (Surrell) and Kelly (Clement, a field trip coordinator at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre). Now the UVic people got a hold of me last week because they said they have three or four classes, including one later this month,” Surry said.
The Alberni Athletic Hall has dorm facilities available—they provide dorms for the West Coast Hockey Prep Camp for several weeks each summer—with 40 new mattresses available. “We haven’t got them put away for winter. We decided we could put them on the floor upstairs and (students) just bring their bedrolls and sleep up there,” Surry said.
“We want to try and keep them off the road as much as possible. That road, especially coming into winter, is not a great road to be travelling at night.”
A spokesperson from the University of Victoria couldn’t confirm whether the university has been sending students to Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre aboard the MV Frances Barkley. UVic is one of several post-secondary institutions that send students to BMSC for marine science classes, he said.
He added that UVic continues to conduct an internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash.
Surrell also owns a former BC Ferries car ferry that he purchased in 2016 with the intent to convert it to a passenger and cargo vessel. As soon as he brought it to the Alberni harbour he was flooded with requests to keep it as a car ferry and provide car service to Bamfield and Ucluelet. Surrell is still waiting for government approval for such a service.
There is no infrastructure in place in Port Alberni, Bamfield or Ucluelet to accommodate car ferry service, only passenger and cargo service.
Interest in the ferry has increased again since the Bamfield Main bus accident, Surrell said.
“We’ve been inundated with car ferry requests,” he said.