September 6, 2013

Deal a big step in revival of Maine-Nova Scotia ferry

The ferry would run once a day each way from May to October and receive $10.5 million in startup costs from the Nova Scotia government.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Nova Scotia's government has completed a deal with a Maine-based company to run a daily ferry service next summer between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, officials said Thursday.

click image to enlarge

A Maine company called Quest Navigation Inc., has joined with International Shipping Partners of Miami and ST Marine of Singapore to operate at ferry service between New England and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The vessel, built in Singapore, would be called the Nova Star. It has 162 cabins, two restaurants and a maximum capacity for 1,215 passengers. It is 59 feet longer than the Scotia Prince, which operated between Portland and Yarmouth from 1982 to 2004.

Photo courtesy Quest Navagation

But don't make travel plans just yet.

The company, Quest Navigation, must now finalize its joint venture agreement with a Singapore company that would provide the ship.

Officials with Quest Navigation Inc. are now in Singapore, negotiating the final terms of that deal.

In a written statement, Quest Navigation President and CEO Mark Amundsen said Thursday that he is pleased with the progress that has been made and is now working to finalize an agreement with ST Marine, which built and owns the ferry.

The ship was designed to cross the English Channel between Le Havre, France, and Portsmouth, England, but the operator that planned to buy it canceled the purchase before delivery, citing construction delays.

The ferry will be called the Nova Star if it moves to the Gulf of Maine. It has 162 cabins, two restaurants and capacity for 1,215 passengers.

At 531 feet, it is longer than the Scotia Prince, the ferry that operated between Portland and Yarmouth from 1982 to 2004.

In an earlier proposal that was rejected by Nova Scotia, Amundsen said his company had an exclusive five-year agreement to charter the vessel, with a purchase option at the end of the five years.

To help manage ferry operations, Quest Navigation plans to use International Shipping Partners, a passenger-ship management company based in Miami.

No ferry has operated between Portland and Yarmouth since 2009, when The Cat's high-speed service ended after Nova Scotia stopped subsidizing it.

The new agreement between Quest Navigation and the provincial government was announced Thursday at a news conference in Yarmouth by Graham Steele, Nova Scotia's minister of economic and rural development and tourism.

The agreement calls for the ferry service to hire Nova Scotians and to buy products and services from businesses in Nova Scotia.

The provincial government would provide $10.5 million for startup costs and $1.5 million in annual marketing assistance, for a total of $21 million over seven years.

The sailing schedule would mirror the schedule of the Scotia Prince, running from May 1 to Oct. 31, leaving Yarmouth daily at 9 a.m. and arriving in Portland at 5 p.m. The return trip would leave Portland at 8 p.m. and arrive in Yarmouth at 7 a.m.

No information about fares was available.

Some details still must be settled, including licenses and permits and a final joint-venture agreement between ST Marine and Quest Navigation, Steele said.

"This is a big piece of the puzzle, but there are still a number of things that have to fall into place for a 2014 ferry service to happen," he said in a prepared statement. "We will continue to work with our partners to create the conditions needed for a viable and successful ferry between Yarmouth and Portland."

Portland and Yarmouth are 207 miles apart by sea and about 750 miles apart by road. The tourism industry in southwestern Nova Scotia has suffered significantly since ferry service ended after the 2009 season.

"This is the news we have been waiting for," Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said in the statement. "The feeling here in Yarmouth and throughout the province is one of both relief and excitement."

Portland has the infrastructure to support ferry service -- the Ocean Gateway terminal, which the city and the state built in 2008 for $20.5 million.

The terminal was designed to be a waiting area and customs screening site for passengers getting on and off the Scotia Prince, but the ferry never used it because the service had been canceled by the time Ocean Gateway opened.

The Scotia Prince's successor, The Cat, operated from 2006 to 2009 and used Ocean Gateway for two summers.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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