A failure to secure an armed RCMP presence to protect American personnel has lead to the closure of the Ketchikan-Prince Rupert ferry service.
On Wednesday, the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) announced that service between the two cities will be officially closed as of Oct. 1.
In March, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents notified AMHS that they needed to secure a Canadian law enforcement presence for U.S. ferries calling on Prince Rupert.
“All avenues for local law enforcement were pursued, but AMHS was not able to secure the staff necessary to fulfill this requirement. The new requirement specifies a Canadian law enforcement presence with the ability to make arrests in Canada, which is not a duty that AMHS staff are able to perform,” AMHS stated in their press release.
Despite the announcement, Prince Rupert’s mayor, Lee Brain, remains optimistic that it will only be a temporary closure.
The issue is a multi-jurisdiction, multi-stakeholder problem that spans two different countries. Mayor Brain said there are some solutions up in the air but he could not provide any specifications until he gets all parties in one room.
“I don’t believe this is the end of the ferry service to Prince Rupert. I believe this issue can be solved. The demand for cross-border tourism and potential trade opportunities continue to be at the forefront of this conversation. I believe now is the time to solve this issue to ensure long term ferry service between our two nations,” Brain stated in an email.
Brain will be heading up to Juneau the week of Sept. 16 to meet with officials in the Governor’s Office and Alaska’s Department of Transportation.
The U.S. government cannot employ American guards on Canadian soil, requiring a need for the armed RCMP officers. The U.S. Government said they will cover the costs for the extra staff.
“The City of Prince Rupert explored all options to provide armed support to customs for the Alaska Marine Highway System. Unfortunately, given our remote location and existing police capacity, it would have necessitated hiring additional full time police officers, an expense that neither the Alaska Marine Highway System or the City are able to support financially,” Brain stated.
Other monetary issues are also plaguing the ferry service to Prince Rupert.
Early in August, Alaska’s governor, Mike Dunleavy, signed a bill finalizing the state’s budget for the fiscal year including a $5 million cut to AMHS. The route from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert was identified as one of the potential services to close.
In addition, there are jurisdiction issues regarding structural upgrades needed for the AMHS dock in Prince Rupert in order to continue service.
In regard to the budget constrains, Brain stated no decision has been made as to which routes will be cut, however potential solutions have been identified to help with operational costs for the Prince Rupert ferry route. He is also looking to solve the issues surrounding the Buy American program that prevent the city from buying local for these upgrades.
Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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