The operators of the planned ferry to Nova Scotia can begin selling tickets after receiving permission from a U.S. federal agency on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, the operator said it plans to delay the start date of the service, which will provide a daily round-trip between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, from May 1 to May 15.
In an email statement on Wednesday to the Portland Press Herald, Commissioner William Doyle of the United States Federal Maritime Commission said that agency has reviewed the surety bond documentation provided by Nova Star Cruises Ltd. and is issuing a “certificate of performance” permit, which allows the company to advertise, take bookings and payments and issue tickets.
Doyle said the company still needs to secure a “casualty certificate” before it can leave a U.S. port with passengers. That certificate shows proof of liability coverage for the death or injury of passengers.
Steve Durrell, chief operating officer for Nova Star Cruises, said he estimates the company will begin selling tickets for the 2014 season at the end of next week.
Company spokesman Dennis Bailey said a one-way ticket for a passenger is $79, which is the same price the company had advertised in January on its website before the federal government ordered the company to take the fares down.
Bailey said some of the other fares have been adjusted to take into account the decline in value of the Canadian dollar, and that those prices will be made available soon, perhaps by Thursday.
Nova Scotia’s government announced on Feb. 27 that it will provide $2 million to Nova Star Cruises Ltd. to fund the surety bond.
The bond is needed to show that the operator has the financial ability to refund customers’ money if crossings are canceled. The coverage amount is based on the number of passenger accommodations on the vessel.
The “performance” permit is required for passenger ships embarking from U.S. ports that have berth or stateroom accommodations for at least 50 passengers.
The ferry, called the Nova Star, has 163 cabins and capacity for 1,215 passengers. It was built at a Singapore shipyard three years ago and left Singapore Saturday morning local time.
The company’s original agreement with the Nova Scotia government called for a May 1 start date. The province, which is providing Nova Star Cruises Ltd. with a $21 million subsidy over seven years, will have to agree to the new start date. Amundsen said the company has already submitted a request to move the date.
“We have been working within a compressed timetable in order to get everything in place to commence service,” said Mark Amundsen, president and CEO of Nova Star Cruises,. “It’s a very complex process. We don’t anticipate the change to have a significant impact on our business, but those extra two weeks could prove to be very valuable in our final preparations.”
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil told the Chronicle Herald in Halifax, Nova Scotia that the delays cause some concern about how ticket sales will perform, but that he expects ticket sales will be strong once the Nova Star arrives in the region from Singapore.
Also on Wednesday, Nova Star Cruises provided more details about the ferry’s itinerary.
Bailey said the ferry will first arrive in Yarmouth on April 14, and there will be a luncheon and tour of the vessel on April 15 for Nova Scotia dignitaries.
“It’s only fitting that Nova Star come to Yarmouth first,” Amundsen said in a statement. “It’s just for a brief stop to test the ship-to-shore interfaces at the ferry terminal, but it’s sure to be a very exciting day – not just for us, but also for all the people of Yarmouth. They have been waiting a long time for this.”
On April 16, the vessel will arrive in Portland, where the U.S. Coast Guard will inspect it. The vessel will remain in Portland until May 10 while table games and 70 slot machines are installed.
On May 12, the Nova Star will arrive in Boston to show off the vessel to local media and dignitaries. It will visit Portsmouth, N.H., on May 14 and then travel back to Portland the same day for another publicity event for local media and dignitaries.
The next day the ferry will make its maiden voyage to Yarmouth with paying customers.
Nova Star Cruises also announced Wednesday that it plans to lease office space on Merrill’s Wharf in Portland.
Nova Star Cruises has teamed up with Intergy Applied Hospitality Solutions of Bedford, Nova Scotia to establish a reservations center staffed with agents to assist customers in booking their tickets over the phone. The company is also implementing an online booking engine on its website, www.NovaStarCruises.com.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: