The operators of the new ferry between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, plan to start the service on May 1, but there’s still much to be done before it’s ready to accept passengers.
The ferry, to be called the Nova Star, is scheduled to be placed in dry dock Wednesday in Singapore to be cleaned and repainted.
Meanwhile, the company needs to obtain permits and certificates to show that it has enough money in reserve to pay any future liability claims or repay customers if service is canceled. The lack of these documents led to the company being ordered to remove fares from its website last month.
“They’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Les Eadie, an assistant professor at Maine Maritime Academy and master of the State of Maine, the academy’s training vessel.
Although the ferry has never been put into service, it’s been tied up and exposed to the weather since completing sea trials in 2010. In 2011, LD Lines, a French company that ordered it, refused to take delivery from the Singapore shipyard that built it.
Photos of the ship taken in Singapore for the Portland Press Herald show that portions of the vessel’s superstructure are streaked with grime. Large letters that spell out “www.LDLines” are still visible on its hull, despite an attempt to either paint over them or scrub them off.
Dennis Bailey, spokesman for the operator, Nova Star Cruises, said the public shouldn’t be concerned with the vessel’s current appearance.
“When it comes into Portland Harbor in April, it will be a gleaming, sparkling vessel, definitely,” he said.
People who have experience preparing ships for service say it should be fairly easy to get the ship spruced up so it looks like the sleek vessel that appears in photos the operator has been using in its marketing materials.
A bigger hurdle, they say, is obtaining all the required permits and certificates from government agencies and a private classification society, such as the American Bureau of Shipping, which set safety standards for the design, construction and operational systems.
No ferry has operated between Portland and Yarmouth since 2009, when a high-speed ferry called the Cat ended its service after Nova Scotia stopped subsidizing it.
The Nova Star has 162 cabins, three restaurants and capacity for 1,215 passengers. The province of Nova Scotia is providing $10.5 million for startup costs and $1.5 million in annual marketing assistance, for a total of $21 million over seven years.
Before the ferry operator can begin booking reservations or even start advertising fares, it will need a certificate from the Federal Maritime Commission showing it has the financial resources to give people their money back if the ferry service is canceled. Nova Star Cruises can do that by putting money in an escrow account or buying a surety bond or insurance. The required coverage is capped at $15 million.
In addition, Nova Star Cruises needs to show the same federal agency it has liability coverage for the injury or death of passengers.
The Federal Maritime Commission last month contacted the company and ordered it to remove fares from its website because it has not obtained its required certificates, according to Karen Gregory, secretary of the Federal Maritime Commission.
Gregory said Nova Star Cruises has yet to file applications for certificates, but a company official has been making inquiries with the agency about its options.
According to the agency’s website, applications must be submitted at least 60 days in advance of arranging, offering, advertising or providing any water transportation or tickets for a cruise embarking passengers from U.S. ports.
“They may have time to get it all done,” Gregory said. “The clock starts with them.”
The Coast Guard will also have to inspect the vessel. The inspections could be done at the Singapore shipyard because the Coast Guard has inspectors based on the island nation. Any changes or repairs required by the Coast Guard would be easier to make at the Singapore shipyard than in Portland, said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Rudick, chief of the inspections division at the Coast Guard station in South Portland.
The ferry will also be inspected when it arrives in Portland, he said.
“We are working with them to meet all the requirements,” Rudick said.
Bailey said the ferry company plans to publish its fares and booking reservations in mid-February, and that public interest in the service is growing. The company’s Facebook page, which has been up since December, has 1,841 fans, and the company has another 396 followers on its Twitter account, @novastarcruises.
The ship is scheduled to leave Singapore in mid-March and arrive in Portland about a month later.
Bailey said the company is confident that the service will begin on schedule.
“We are working on it,” he said. “It’s going to happen. All of this stuff is very complicated, and you are dealing with three countries and marine law. Nothing is easy, but it’s underway.”
Dom Yanchunas, editor of Professional Mariner magazine, said the Coast Guard and classification society will do their best to help the company meet its May 1 deadline.
“It’s work that probably cannot be done in a few weeks, but getting it done in a few months is in the realm of possibilities,” he said.
Officials with the city of Portland and state of Maine have been working with the company on what kind of improvements need to be made to the Ocean Gateway passenger terminal, such as installing a new gangway system. Bill Needleman, the city’s waterfront coordinator, said city officials are confident the terminal will be ready by May 1.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: