Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Prospects for a new ferry service starting next summer between Portland and Nova Scotia got a lot better this week.
A Maine company called Quest Navigation Inc., is one of three companies who bid to relaunch ferry service between Portland and Nova Scotia beginning in summer 2014. Quest joined with International Shipping Partners of Miami and ST Marine of Singapore to operate the Nova Star, seen above.
Photo courtesy Quest Navigation
Officials on both sides of the Gulf of Maine say three qualified companies submitted proposals to the Canadian province Thursday to operate a ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and New England.
Portland was not named in the request for proposals, and details of the proposals have not been made public. But Greg Mitchell, Portland's economic development director, said he was assured Friday by Nova Scotia officials that Portland would be the port of call in the United States under all three proposals.
"We are staying in close contact with them and stand ready to work with them every step of the way to re-establish the service," Mitchell said. "Our port facilities are in excellent condition, and we can be ready to start service in short order."
A lot of tourism dollars are at stake. At its peak, in 2002, the Scotia Prince ferry carried 322,000 round-trip passengers between Portland and Yarmouth, and many of those passengers ate meals and stayed overnight in Greater Portland.
Ferry service is even more important for southwestern Nova Scotia, a relatively isolated area where tourism has declined significantly since ferry service stopped.
This is the fourth summer without ferry service between Yarmouth and Portland, since Bay Ferries Ltd. canceled its high-speed service on The Cat after the 2009 season, citing growing fuel costs, declining passenger counts and the loss of a subsidy from Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia is now offering $21 million over seven years to subsidize startup costs for a new service. Rather than a high-speed ferry, the Canadians are looking for a slower, cruise-type ferry like the Scotia Prince, which ran between Yarmouth and Portland from 1982 to 2004.
The Nova Scotia government said Friday that it has received proposals from P&O Ferries, Balearia Caribbean Ltd. and STM/Quest.
The government is pleased that three "experienced" operators have shown interest in the route, said Graham Steele, Nova Scotia's minister of economic and rural development and tourism.
P&O Ferries, based in Dover, England, owns 20 ferries that operate between England, Holland, France, Belgium and Ireland. It employs 4,000 people and has gross annual revenue of more than $1.5 billion.
Balearia Caribbean Ltd. operates a daily ferry service between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Freeport, Bahamas. The company is owned by Bale?a, a Spanish shipping company that operates ferries in the Mediterranean.
The proposal by STM/Quest is a joint venture by Quest Navigation Inc., based in Eliot; International Shipping Partners, a passenger ship management company based in Miami; and ST Marine, a shipbuilding company in Singapore.
The proposal calls for ferry service between Yarmouth and Portland on a vessel built in Singapore that has 162 cabins, two restaurants and capacity for 1,215 passengers.
At 531 feet, it is longer than the Scotia Prince. It was designed to cross the English Channel between Le Havre, France, and Portsmouth, England. The company that planned to buy it canceled the purchase before delivery, citing construction delays.
The ship would be named the Nova Star.
Steele said the next step is to evaluate the proposals to determine whether the companies offer viable and sustainable service.
The provincial government has not set a deadline for a decision. Its criteria will include each company's financial stability, management structure, experience in the tourism industry and management history.
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click image to enlarge
The Scotia Prince at Portland International Ferry Terminal on April 28, 2003. Officials on both sides of the Gulf of Maine say three qualified companies submitted proposals to the Canadian province Thursday to operate a ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and New England.
Portland Press Herald file photo by John Ewing