Engine replacement causes lengthy shutdown of Wolfe Islander III

Crews work on the deck of the Wolfe Islander III after an engine failure required a replacement of the engine, causing hours of disrupted service of ferry users from Saturday, Mar. 11 well into Sunday, Mar. 12, 2023. Photo by Aerosnapper Kingston.

This past weekend saw more ferry service disruptions for the Wolfe Islander III, as residents were left stranded at both the Wolfe Island and Kingston docks for almost 20 hours while crews with the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) worked to replace the ferry’s engine. 

At 10:23 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 11, 2023, the official Twitter account for the Wolfe Islander III posted a notice that the boat would have to stay in Kingston while “mechanical issues” were addressed. At 11:09 p.m., the same account tweeted, “MTO Engineers have diagnosed the problem and estimate we will be able to depart Kingston at [1 a.m.].” However, at 12:38 a.m. on Sunday, a tweet was put out saying the boat would be kept in Kingston until 7 a.m. because engineers had been unable to fully resolve the issue. 

The 7 a.m. target time came and went with no return to service. The ferry’s Twitter account posted an update at 7:43 a.m. that the boat was “still having mechanical issues” and that it would sail from Kingston to the Island at 8 a.m. before returning to the mainland where engineers would work to resolve the problem. Then, at 9:22 a.m., it was announced that the Wolfe Islander III would need to undergo an “engine change,” which would keep the boat out of service for an undisclosed period of time. 

Later that afternoon, the MTO issued a tweet saying the engine replacement was “going well” and that, “pending any unforeseen challenges,” the ferry would return to service from Kingston at 7 p.m. The work to replace the ferry’s engine was successfully completed Sunday evening, with the boat returning to service an hour ahead of schedule, leaving Kingston at 6 p.m. 

As for what caused the service disruptions, a spokesperson with the MTO confirmed to Kingstonist that the issue stemmed from a “broken hydraulic line” on the boat. “On the evening of March 11, the Chief Marine Engineer determined there was a broken hydraulic line on one of the Wolfe Islander III engines. MTO engineers replaced the engine and the ferry returned to service on March 12, 2023, at [6 p.m.].” 

While the ferry was out of service for almost an entire day, MTO noted that workers were able to replace the engine in a timely manner, as a spare engine for the Wolfe Islander III was already in storage: “MTO owns and maintains an inventory of spares, including engines, as part of its contingency planning.”

With the ferry shut down for nearly 20 hours, residents were left stranded at both docks, with no way to come and go from the island or mainland. Tony Tiefenbach, a Wolfe Island resident and business owner who was one of the countless people inconvenienced by the Wolfe Islander III’s shutdown this past weekend, said, “A lot of my work is on weekends. I was going to catch the 8:30 ferry [as] I had a client coming from Prince Edward County… [so] I got to the ferry and waited and waited, and there’s no ferry.”

While Tiefenbach was displeased with the service disruption, his main frustration seemed to be with the lack of updates provided by MTO during the shutdown. “On Twitter, it said they were going to do a run earlier and they were going to [provide an] update. So we’re waiting and waiting, [and] there’s no update… We sat there with no information, no update, which is typical.” Tiefenbach said that although he had signed up for email alerts on the status of the ferry, only limited updates were provided through Twitter over the weekend. 

“Every time the ferry breaks down… they say ‘We’ll update you as soon as possible.’ Most of the time, there’s no updates whatsoever… Everybody’s in limbo all the time, and there’s no update. It’s not just one occurrence. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve lost work because of this.” 

Tiefenbach, who relies on the ferry for business, estimates he’s missed out on thousands of dollars already in 2023 as a result of the ongoing serivice disruptions. “This year — it’s unbelievable. Like, thousands of dollars are [already] lost. I only get paid when [my] clients pay me… It’s unacceptable. Who’s going to be responsible?” 

A representative from MTO acknowledged the inconvenience this weekend’s shutdown may have caused residents and others who rely on the ferry for work and business: “We recognize the inconvenience this may have caused and will continue to plan proactively to minimize impacts of unexpected service delays.”

While the shutdowns have a negative impact on residents’ income, they also raise concerns related to medical emergencies, with ambulances unable to get to and from the island while the ferry isn’t running. According to a representative from Frontenac Paramedic Services, “in cases when the ferry is unexpectedly out of service and totally unavailable, Ornge air ambulance and Coast Guard lifeboat are alternatives. Wolfe Island Emergency Services is also available for first response in extraordinary circumstances.”

A protocol is currently in place which calls for the on-duty Paramedic Superintendent and the Kingston Central Ambulance Communications Centre to be notified when the ferry is out of service. However, the representative confirmed that such a protocol was not followed during this weekend’s shutdown. “Paramedics were not notified of the service interruption this time. There were no calls for Paramedics service during the shutdown.” 

The shutdown that occurred this weekend is just the latest in a long line of service interruptions that have impacted Wolfe Island residents and other ferry users for months, as the MTO deals with mechanical issues and labour shortages. 

A new ferry, the Wolfe Islander IV, is set to go into service at some point this year, this spring, according to the last official update from the MTO; however, that cannot occur until “crews are trained, and the vessel is certified to carry passengers.” 

As maintenance issues, a lack of communication, and other mishaps have plagued local ferry services, follies apparently continue. On a separate issue, the MTO spokesperson also confirmed to Kingstonist that the charging arm for the new Amherst Island electric ferry was mistakenly delivered to Wolfe Island on at least one occasion. “It was discovered that the delivery company sent the wrong part to the Marysville site, and this was corrected without issue.” 

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