The Canadian company that plans to run the ferry service between Portland and Nova Scotia next summer is still searching for a vessel.
Bay Ferries Ltd., the company that Nova Scotia picked to run the service, is scouring the globe for a ship but has yet to find one, said Geoff MacLellan, the province’s minister of transportation.
Without a vessel, the government cannot finalize a contract with Bay Ferries because the ship’s design and amenities would determine the service’s expenses and revenues, he said.
MacLellan, however, said he’s optimistic that Bay Ferries Ltd. will find a ship, and that the government and Bay Ferries can agree on a contract for next summer. Nova Scotia intends to subsidize the service but has yet to say how much money it will spend.
“Everything will fall in place once we have the vessel secured,” he said.
As it looks for a ship, Bay Ferries is moving ahead on other parts of its business plan, such as securing contracts with coach lines, MacLellan said.
Nova Scotia’s government announced on Oct. 29 that Bay Ferries is the preferred candidate for the route, which the province sees as essential to its tourism industry. At the time, Mark MacDonald, chief executive of Bay Ferries, agreed to create a plan for the service and bring it to the government within 45 days, which would have been Dec. 13. The company has yet to submit a plan.
MacDonald could not be reached for comment.
Bay Ferries operated a high-speed ferry, The Cat, on the same route from 2006 until 2009. The company operates ferry service between Saint John, New Brunswick, and Digby, Nova Scotia, and between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
MacLellan said he has confidence in MacDonald because of his extensive experience in the industry and the region.
Mark Amundsen, president and CEO of Nova Star Cruises, had no experience with ferry services before starting his company. He operated the service for two years before the government canceled the contract in October because its vessel, the Nova Star, carried far fewer passengers and cost the government much more money than expected.
Amundsen predicted the Nova Star would carry 100,000 passengers a season. Instead, it carried 59,000 passengers in 2014, its inaugural season, and 52,000 in its second season, a 12 percent decline.
The province spent $28.5 million (Canadian) for the service in the Nova Star’s first season. This year, the government limited its subsidy to $13 million, equal to nearly $10 million (U.S.) at current exchange rates.
The service’s financial troubles led a federal court to order the seizure of the Nova Star in October, after several companies complained that they were owed more than $3 million.
Nova Star Cruises paid most of its debts and left Portland Harbor on Dec. 9. It’s now in the Bahamas while its owner, Singapore Technologies Marine, looks for a company to buy or lease it.
Bay Ferries is likely looking for a vessel that is smaller and less costly to charter than the Nova Star, said Jeff Monroe, a former Portland port director who overseas the education and training programs for the International Association of Maritime Port Executives.
He said Bay Ferries is struggling to find a suitable vessel because there aren’t many available vessels small enough to squeeze into Yarmouth Harbor, which is so shallow that the Nova Star almost hit bottom on low tides, he said.
Also, Bay Ferries needs a vessel that meets the safety codes required by the U.S. and Canada, and new low-sulfur standards for diesel fuel.
“Really, the big issue is you have to find a ferry that is the right size.” Monroe said.