VICTORIA -- Ferry companies operating between Victoria and Washington state are stepping up safety measures in the wake of recent coronavirus deaths in the Seattle area.

"Some might say it's fear-mongering but I think it's the prudent thing to do," said Ryan Burles, president of Black Ball Ferry Line, which operates the Coho ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles.

Burles said staff aboard the Coho are sanitizing vessel surfaces three times per day to prevent the spread of any possible contagions.

Six people have died from coronavirus in Washington state, where a state-of-emergency has now been declared.

Fellow ferry operator Clipper Vacations is also taking extra precautions with sanitation, and offering free cancellations for travellers who are suddenly thinking twice about visiting Washington state.

"Over the weekend, the tenor of this has changed significantly," Clipper Vacations CEO David Gudgel said. "It's become much more of a local problem and Seattle is certainly the epicentre in the U.S."

Gudgel said the company has posted signage on its vessels, including World Health Organization guidelines on hand washing, and is offering free hand sanitizer to customers.

"Onboard we have changed the solutions we're using for cleaning to an anti-virus solutions and we've increased the frequency of the wipe-downs of all of the hard surfaces," he said.

"We also realize that some folks may not feel comfortable travelling right now so we've waived all cancellation fees and we're offering a travel credit for any cancellations."

Both Black Ball and Clipper Vacations chiefs say they're already feeling the hit to their travel bookings.

"We are feeling it," Gudgel said. "We saw some of our typical booking patterns fall off over the weekend."

Both companies say they are working with authorities on both sides of the border to ensure the safety of their passengers and the wider public.

BC Ferries, which operates vessels on several routes between Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the B.C. mainland, said it is also increasing sanitation on its vessels and inside its terminals.