Blockade ... part 2
The great Alaskan Ferry Misadventure, a fishermen’s blockade in Canadian waters, continues....
Before the end of the first full day, Mary and Rainer opted to fly on to Juneau. With a limited vacation ticking away, they booked flights to Ketchikan by Taquan Air, where Alaska Air took them on to Juneau. We’re not sure yet how much of their suddenly soaring expenses they’ll be able to recoup.
But consider the situation of one woman aboard who trains search and rescue teams, and was traveling with two young boys and two dogs. She had time constraints, and while the ferry system might be willing to fly her out and figure out later how to get her car back to her, what about the dogs?
Two couples had reservations with a tour company for a two-day jaunt to Glacier Bay. The tour cost $880 and the company refused either to reschedule them nor return their money since they didn’t take trip insurance. I told them a little bit about adverse publicity and how to use it. I hope they followed through.
On the second morning I got in line at the single telephone in the terminal building. I had decided to call Congressman Collins and Sen. Cleland, but had a bad number for Collins and was referred to a recorder at Cleland’s (after calling cross-continent at prime time rates.) I guess I just wanted to let them know what was going on, and the Canadians’ cavalier attitude about it.
Later, we read that the U.S. Senate did register a censure against the Canadian government for the episode.
Finally saw a newspaper that said the American fishermen described their catching triple their allowance of sockeye salmon as “accidental.” The Vancouver paper absolutely chortled over the Canadians’ “catch” of a ferry.
And there’s the crux of it, apparently: The Canadian government was tacitly in support of the fishermen and therefore dragged its feet even after its own courts served an injunction against the blockading fishermen. A single Canadian Coast Guard vessel was lying off, but neither it nor the Royal Canadian Mounted Police boat seemed to be doing anything other than observing.
Every now and then it seemed as though something was happening. While I was in at the terminal getting Mary and Rainer off to the airport, the announcement came that everybody had better get back aboard, that the boats had parted enough to let the ship through. I felt slightly frantic as the agent processed the ticket refund onto my credit card, but finally tore back to the ship -- alas, in vain. More waiting lay ahead.
We watched as police vessels proceeded to serve papers to all the boats out there, videotaping documentation as they went. Trouble was, as old boats left and new boats came in, they had to do it again and again and again.
The row of boats actually blocking the ferry did not change,
but a raft of a dozen boats just outside our cabin window, grouped and regrouped, occasionally just spinning slowly, while others wove in and out around them, posturing.
The fishermen were certainly getting the publicity they wanted. Helicopters were flying over, and we were interviewed by the Seattle Times and Associated Press.
Fishermen have a really hard life and live close to the margin. Knowing my countrymen’s propensity for pushing legalities to the limit, I sympathized at first with the Canadians, who took the position that they were being bullied by the U.S. They’d been trying for years, without success, to work out a satisfactory treaty with Alaskan fishermen, whom they accuse of over-fishing the sockeye and catching fish bound for Canadian spawning grounds.
The Americans’ reply: How can you tell American fish from Canadian fish before you catch them? Besides, this has been an exceptionally productive year and we can’t help catching too many.
About 9 o’clock Monday evening we realized that the boats were disappearing. A few diehards hung on until the last, but finally cleared the front of The Mal, and with three low blasts of her whistle, she slid out into the channel.
Another 24-hour delay at Ketchikan, as the company tried to salvage their schedule, but finally -- finally! -- we debarked in Juneau at 1:30 Thursday morning, where our poor working daughter came to meet us, four days late and in the rain.
We’d been interviewed by Associated Press, and as we walked up the gangway, the ABC television affiliate in Juneau met us with lights and camera. After a week with no news, we WERE news.
It was somewhat scary, we told them, although we never actually felt threatened. The fishermen weren’t really hostile toward us passengers, they realized we were merely victims of circumstance , but you never know when somebody’s going to push things too far and cause an accident or fire.
We also had high praise for the professionalism displayed by the ferry personnel. Some had worked 24 hours before a relief crew was flown in.
Needless to say, Alaska has canceled its contract with Prince Rupert. That city is out the $16,000 per month docking fees they’ve been used to, and the ramifications for tourism there and all the way back across B.C. will domino.
But on that chilly night, we were heading for a warm bed, on dry land this time. Let the Canadians solve their own problems. They created them.
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]