January 27

Much work remains to make new Portland ferry shipshape

Besides reconditioning the vessel, ferry service operators must secure permits showing enough financial reserves in order to sell tickets.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The operators of the new ferry between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, plan to start the service on May 1, but there’s still much to be done before it’s ready to accept passengers.

click image to enlarge

The Nova Star, formerly named the Norman Leader, sits at port in Singapore last week. The ship is scheduled to be used as a new ferry between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The ferry, to be called the Nova Star, is scheduled to be placed in dry dock Wednesday in Singapore to be cleaned and repainted.

Meanwhile, the company needs to obtain permits and certificates to show that it has enough money in reserve to pay any future liability claims or repay customers if service is canceled. The lack of these documents led to the company being ordered to remove fares from its website last month.

“They’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Les Eadie, an assistant professor at Maine Maritime Academy and master of the State of Maine, the academy’s training vessel.

Although the ferry has never been put into service, it’s been tied up and exposed to the weather since completing sea trials in 2010. In 2011, LD Lines, a French company that ordered it, refused to take delivery from the Singapore shipyard that built it.

Photos of the ship taken in Singapore for the Portland Press Herald show that portions of the vessel’s superstructure are streaked with grime. Large letters that spell out “www.LDLines” are still visible on its hull, despite an attempt to either paint over them or scrub them off.

Dennis Bailey, spokesman for the operator, Nova Star Cruises, said the public shouldn’t be concerned with the vessel’s current appearance.

“When it comes into Portland Harbor in April, it will be a gleaming, sparkling vessel, definitely,” he said.

People who have experience preparing ships for service say it should be fairly easy to get the ship spruced up so it looks like the sleek vessel that appears in photos the operator has been using in its marketing materials.

A bigger hurdle, they say, is obtaining all the required permits and certificates from government agencies and a private classification society, such as the American Bureau of Shipping, which set safety standards for the design, construction and operational systems.

No ferry has operated between Portland and Yarmouth since 2009, when a high-speed ferry called the Cat ended its service after Nova Scotia stopped subsidizing it.

The Nova Star has 162 cabins, three restaurants and capacity for 1,215 passengers. The province of Nova Scotia is providing $10.5 million for startup costs and $1.5 million in annual marketing assistance, for a total of $21 million over seven years.

Before the ferry operator can begin booking reservations or even start advertising fares, it will need a certificate from the Federal Maritime Commission showing it has the financial resources to give people their money back if the ferry 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.

In addition, Nova Star Cruises needs to show the same federal agency it has liability coverage for the injury or death of passengers.

The Federal Maritime Commission last month contacted the company and ordered it to remove fares from its website because it has not obtained its required certificates, according to Karen Gregory, secretary of the Federal Maritime Commission.

Gregory said Nova Star Cruises has yet to file applications for certificates, but a company official has been making inquiries with the agency about its options.

According to the agency’s website, applications must be submitted at least 60 days in advance of arranging, offering, advertising or providing any water transportation or tickets for a cruise embarking passengers from U.S. ports.

(Continued on page 2)

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