Just 11 weeks before its scheduled maiden voyage, the operator of the ferry service planned between Portland and Nova Scotia is asking Nova Scotia’s government to help it obtain financial guarantees required by the U.S. government, according to a company spokesman and an official with the provincial government.
Nova Star Cruises plans to start service May 1, but before it can begin booking reservations or even advertise fares, it needs a certificate from the Federal Maritime Commission showing it has the financial resources to give people refunds if the 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 and varies based on passenger volume.
The ferry operator also must show the federal agency that it has liability coverage for any passenger injuries or deaths.
Officials from the company and the province discussed the issue Thursday, said Dennis Bailey, spokesman for Nova Star Cruises.
“The issue is the bond,” Bailey said. “We are asking for their assistance.”
Nova Scotia has already committed $21 million over seven years to the ferry service, which is planned to operate between Yarmouth and Portland.
Nova Scotia Economic and Rural Development Minister Michel Samson said the company has asked for money to help it meet U.S. regulations, but it is not above and beyond the $21 million in assistance to which the two parties have agreed.
“It’s a question of where that money is going to come from,” Samson said. “I don’t think it would be fair to assume that it’s going to be additional funds.”
Starting an international ferry service is a “complicated transaction,” said Samson, and all indications from the company are that it remains on schedule for a May 1 start. “We’ve done our best to try to deal with issues as they come forward,” he said.
The Federal Maritime Commission contacted Nova Star Cruises last month and ordered it to remove fares from its website because it did not have the required certificates, said Karen Gregory, secretary of the commission.
The Nova Star ferry, with capacity for 1,215 passengers, is expected to offer daily service between Portland and Yarmouth from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year.
The operator has yet to find a route for the ferry during the off season. Experts say an off-season route is necessary to keep the ferry financially viable.
The ship is now in Singapore, where it was built in 2010. It left dry dock last week with a fresh coat of paint and the company’s compass-like logo featured prominently on its funnel. It is scheduled to leave Singapore in mid-March for the Gulf of Maine, a 10,000-mile journey that will cost about $1 million for fuel alone.
Michael Gorman of the Chronicle Herald in Halifax contributed to this report.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: