Delayed cruise departure top pressure in Seaspan labor dispute

The Celebrity Eclipse departed from Canada shortly before 1 p.m. Monday, nearly 20 hours late. The delay is the result of a labor dispute between Seaspan and the captains and officers union.

The trip had been delayed twice, and Karen Fowles and Jude Williamson from Wales were relieved when they eventually made it on their twice-rescheduled 50th birthday trip.

“As you can imagine, a big party on board,” Fowles relayed by email after suffering a delay, which she said was due to poor communication with Celebrity Cruises, which offered only brief announcements in the first few hours.

The Celebrity Eclipse could not move while the Seaspan-owned refueling barge remained alongside the ship. The union representing Seaspan’s captains and officers, the Maritime Services Union of Canada, has been on strike since last Thursday.

Celebrity said in social media posts that workers at another tugboat company refused to move the barge because they did not own it, but a union-brokered deal on Monday allowed the barge to be moved to allow the Eclipse to begin its seven-day voyage.

“They just announced that they’re going to try to make up the time, but unfortunately they have to miss our stop at Ici Strait Point,” Fowles said on the east side of Chichagof Island, Alaska.

She added that Celebrity told passengers they would get a 1 1/2-day credit on their bills, plus refunds for station excursions, but Fowles said she would still seek reimbursement “because this was not a cheap vacation.”

A bigger issue for port users is the possible disruption of assistance offered by Seaspan’s 30 tugboats that dock and escort ships at 29 terminals at the Port of Metro Vancouver, including its largest container facility, Deltaport, and Westshore Terminals, the West Coast’s largest coal handling facility.

“From a market share perspective, Seaspan’s tugboat business is significant,” said Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Chamber of Shipping, B.C.

Seaspan is one of the preeminent players in berthing, escorting and barge towing on the West Coast along with Saam Towing and the Ocean Group.

Lewis-Manning said tugboat services are competitive, with two other unions representing workers at other firms.

“I believe most of the demand can be met, but it will require careful and early coordination,” he added, as any missed docking or escort tasks will have detrimental effects in disrupted dock work orders, pilot assignments and delayed shipping schedules.