VANCOUVER -- Canada's transportation ministry has announced new rules for ferries and other commercial passenger ships operating in Canadian waters aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Beginning Monday, all commercial marine vessels with a capacity greater than 12 passengers will be prohibited from operating for non-essential reasons, such as tourism or recreation. These restrictions will remain in place until at least June 30, Transport Canada said in a news release Sunday.

Likewise, all cruise ships will be prohibited from travelling through or stopping in Canadian Arctic waters until Oct. 31.

Finally, essential passenger vessels, such as ferries, will be required to reduce their maximum capacities by 50 per cent to facilitate physical distancing of at least two metres between passengers. Alternatively, such vessels can implement other practices to prevent the spread of the virus - such as keeping people in their vehicles or enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures - as long as those practices are consistent with Public Health Authority of Canada guidelines.

Transport Canada has also issued guidelines to ferry operators for conducting health screenings on all passengers before boarding if the voyage is longer than 30 minutes.

The new rules announced Sunday come roughly one week after the federal government imposed a similar health screening requirement on travellers boarding planes or trains in Canada.

That announcement did not include such a requirement for ferry passengers, something the industry association found frustrating.

"People with COVID-19 symptoms should also be banned from boarding ferries unless there are emergency requirements, such as going to a hospital, and only with prior notice to the ferry operator," said Serge Buy, the CEO of the Canadian Ferry Association, in a statement after the rules for planes and trains were released.

On Sunday, Buy issued another statement, praising the federal government for extending the requirement to ferry services.

“The offices of Minister (of Transportation Mark) Garneau and Deputy Prime Minister (Chrystia) Freeland have taken this issue seriously and we are pleased with the actions they have taken on behalf of ferry passengers, crews and the communities we serve,” said Buy. “They demonstrated a willingness to work with, and understand, the sector and we thank them for that.”

British Columbia's ferry operator, BC Ferries, has dramatically reduced the number of sailings it offers because of decreased demand during the coronavirus pandemic. The company has also urged would-be passengers to stay away unless their travel is essential.

On Friday, BC Ferries also announced it was laying off hundreds of employees as a result of its service changes. The layoffs are intended to be temporary, with staff rehired when normal service returns.

Asked for comment on the new rules announced Sunday, a BC Ferries spokesperson said the company's existing service already complies with all of them except for the health screening requirement.

The company will now begin asking customers a series of questions, including whether they have travelled outside Canada in the last 14 days and whether they have any flu-like symptoms. Anyone who answers yes to any of the questions will be denied passage, the spokesperson said.