The newly scrubbed and painted Nova Star will begin its 10,000-mile journey next month from Singapore to the Gulf of Maine.
The ferry, which will travel daily between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, is expected to stop in Boston and Portsmouth, N.H., before arriving in Portland a day or two before the scheduled May 1 launch date, a company spokesman said.
One obstacle remains, though. It is still impossible for the public to buy a ticket on the Nova Star.
That’s because the ferry operator, Nova Star Cruises, has yet to receive approval from the Federal Maritime Commission to advertise its fares or sell tickets.
The ferry company has submitted an application that shows it has liability coverage and the financial resources to give people their money back if the ferry service is canceled, and it expects to win approval from the federal commission “very soon,” said Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for Nova Star Cruises.
The company last month said the problem will be fixed by mid-February. However, its website, www.novastarcruises.com, still has no fare information.
A message to the public on the website reads: “We are working diligently to resolve the matter and will have the fares posted on our website as soon as possible. In addition, we expect to have our online reservation system up and running by the end of February. We apologize for the delay.”
The company will have to sell a lot of tickets to fill the ship. The Nova Star is a large vessel, with capacity for 1,215 passengers, and it will be operating between Portland and Yarmouth every day.
Bailey said the ferry operator is confident that it can overcome its late start for selling tickets.
The company, which is receiving a $21 million subsidy over seven years from the Nova Scotia government, has budgeted nearly $1.5 million for advertising and marketing expenses this year, he said.
In addition, company officials expect the ship will get a lot of attention from the media and travel writers when it reaches Boston in April.
“It’s our biggest market, and we want to make an impression down there,” Bailey said.
The Nova Star is essentially a new ship, Bailey said. Built in Singapore in 2010 for a French company that later canceled its contract, the ship has never been put into service.
The ship left dry dock last week in Singapore with a fresh coat of paint and the company’s compass-like logo featured prominently on its funnel. All traces of the ship’s previous name, the Norman Leader, have been removed.
The ship itself will be the company’s greatest marketing tool, said James Frost, a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based marketing and business development specialist with experience in port marketing and ferry operations.
Also, because of the rise of social media, news of the vessel’s arrival in Boston will spread rapidly among potential passengers in the Northeast, he said.
“It will cause a stir all on its own,” he said. “Once the ship arrives, they will be in fine shape.”
The company has projected it will carry 100,000 passengers in its first year.
But Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert based in Miami, said the ferry service initially will have difficulty selling tickets because many potential passengers will be skeptical about whether the service is reliable and decide to wait for proof.
He said he has seen several ferry operations between Florida and the Bahamas fail because the projected passenger volumes were never realized, and the companies didn’t have enough cash to sustain the service while trying to build their business to sustainable levels.
He said the Nova Star Cruises’ inability to sell tickets just 11 weeks prior to the start of the service does not help its credibility.
“The biggest question is: How long can this company operate? Because it’s unlikely they are going to hit their forecast numbers,” he said.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: