For 22 years, from 1982 to 2004, the Scotia Prince was a seasonal fixture on Portland’s busy waterfront, ferrying tourists, truckers, gamblers and others to and from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
Its service in Portland came to an abrupt end in a storm of controversy marked by declining ticket sales and a lawsuit that blamed Portland officials for a moldy passenger terminal.
Now, after recent stints housing Hurricane Katrina survivors off the coast of New Orleans, reviving ferry service between India and Sri Lanka and evacuating Indian citizens from war-torn Libya, the 40-year-old ferry is heading for the scrap heap.
The Scotia Prince has been sold and will be delivered this week to a new owner in Colombo, Sri Lanka, according to International Shipping Partners of Miami, Fla. The passenger ship management company wouldn’t say who bought the ferry or where it will be dismantled.
“It’s sad to see it go, but it’s not too surprising,” said Henk Pols of Cape Elizabeth, former president of Prince of Fundy Cruises, the company that operated the Scotia Prince until 2000.
“After all these years and operating in various areas since she left Portland, that ship’s been subjected to constant use and exposure to the elements,” Pols said. “There comes a point when it’s no longer feasible to maintain a vessel like that.”
It’s a disappointing end for a ferry that played a fun or functional role in the lives of many Mainers, Canadians and others.
Vacationers and truckers hauling fish and other products counted on the overnight ferry to slice time and trouble off what would have been a 750-mile drive through eastern Maine and the Canadian Maritimes.
Couples and families celebrated anniversaries, birthdays and weekend getaways in the ferry’s Concord Dining Room and Broadway Lounge, which featured regular floor shows. Gamblers, both devoted and dabblers, tried their luck in a casino filled with slot machines and game tables. At 143 meters long, the ferry could carry a maximum 1,120 passengers, some of whom stayed in its 250 cabins.
“It provided a cruise experience for many people,” said Joe Gray, Portland’s former city manager, who traveled on the ferry a few times to promote economic development between Maine and Nova Scotia.
“People could get away for a weekend and have a nice meal and a show,” Gray said. “The cabins were comfortable and had bathrooms. For some people, it was the Queen Mary of Maine.”
As many as 80 people worked on the Scotia Prince each season. One of them was Milton Hammith of Windham, who came from his native Jamaica to Portland in 1988 to work on the ferry.
Hammith spent two summers serving the crew in the officers’ mess hall. He did additional work for tips, such as carrying passengers’ bags and helping dining room staff. He wound up marrying a local woman and stayed in Maine.
“The Scotia Prince wasn’t fancy, but it was nice,” said Hammith, who runs the Clock Tower Cafe at Portland City Hall. “There was no pool or anything like that. Bus tours came from Massachusetts and New York. Fish trucks would go up empty and come back filled with fish.”
Some who didn’t ride the Scotia Prince kept track of its comings and goings from the International Marine Terminal. The line of cars streaming off the ferry or waiting to board often slowed traffic on Commercial Street.
“People on the islands in Casco Bay and along its shores could set their watches when they saw the ferry coming in or heading out,” Pols said.
The Scotia Prince sailed out of Portland Harbor at the end of the 2004 season and never returned.
Scotia Prince Cruises, the company that bought Prince of Fundy Cruises in 2000, reported mold and structural problems at the terminal that year and operated outdoors most of the season.
Mark Hudson, an executive for the ferry line, reported that passenger totals were down 23 percent from 2003, and down 30 percent from 2002.
Early the next year, the ferry line canceled its 2005 season and filed a lawsuit against the city seeking more than $20 million in losses related to the terminal’s condition. The city completed renovations to the terminal and transferred the lease to Bay Ferries Ltd., which started operating The Cat between Portland and Nova Scotia.
In 2008, the city paid $1.2 million to settle its scuffle with Scotia Prince Cruises. The next year, Bay Ferries ended The Cat’s service when Nova Scotia withdrew a $5.65 million subsidy that kept the high-speed ferry afloat.
In recent years, officials in Maine and Nova Scotia have talked about renewing the ferry service to boost tourism, so far to no avail. Some believe that providing a cruise experience, with a dining room, nightclub, casino and passenger cabins, is the only way it would be successful.
“That’s the direction it needs to go,” said Gray, the former city manager.
There’s a vessel on its way to be scrapped that might have filled the bill.
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: