The Alaska Marine Highway System is facing severe budget cuts for the upcoming fiscal year, which could end service to Prince Rupert. (Jay Galvin Flickr photo)

Alaska ferry service may have to pay armed RCMP at B.C. terminal

Without armed police at inspections, the port faces closure

Alaska will pay armed Canadian police to provide protection to U.S. personnel at a ferry terminal in B.C., state transportation officials said.

The Alaska Marine Highway System was notified in March that unarmed U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents checking ferries leaving Prince Rupert, B.C., will require assistance from Royal Canadian Mounted Police, CoastAlaska reported Friday.

Without armed police at inspections, the port faces closure, officials said.

The Canadian officers will be contracted through the ferry service, which is facing budget cuts by Alaska’s Legislature.

Federal officials mandating the change “never offered” to help the state fund the contract, but Alaska officials consider it the cost of doing business, said ferry system general manager John Falvey.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a large sum of money,” Falvey said.

READ MORE: Uncertain future for Alaska ferry terminal in Prince Rupert

Alaska officials have an Oct. 1 deadline to finalize a plan, he said.

Passengers and vehicles boarding Alaska ferries in Prince Rupert, 188 kilometres south of Ketchikan, are routinely checked by U.S. agents. The “pre-clearance” system allows passengers to disembark without presenting paperwork again, officials said.

U.S. personnel cannot carry firearms while doing passport and contraband checks in Prince Rupert, said Jerry McGee, customs service assistant area port director in Anchorage.

“It’s a sovereign nation and we don’t have that authority,” McGee said.

Passengers are allowed carry hunting rifles and shotguns, which are legal in both countries.

“Therefore, theoretically our staff would be the only ones that are not armed,” McGee said.

An agreement allowing U.S. agents to carry firearms in Prince Rupert is several years away, officials said.

The Associated Press

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