January 28, 2013

Two firms seek to run Portland-to-Nova Scotia ferry

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Two American companies have submitted bids to Nova Scotia's government to operate a ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland.

click image to enlarge

The Scotia Prince at Portland International Ferry Terminal on April 28, 2003. Two American companies have submitted bids to Nova Scotia's government to operate a ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland.

Portland Press Herald file photo by John Ewing

Quest Navigation Inc. of Maine and Maritime Applied Physics Corp. of Baltimore now must convince the province that they have business plans that will sustain the ferry service for seven years.

The province has said it will provide as much as $21 million over that period to subsidize the ferry service, which is seen as a critical step for reviving its slumping tourism industry.

The province is expected to take about a month to evaluate the bids. The state of Maine has no say in the matter because it's not providing any money for the service.

The two bidders are small companies that don't operate ferries currently.

Maritime Applied Physics Corp. is an engineering and manufacturing firm that focuses on emerging technologies. It has a facility in Brunswick, and its products include hydrofoils and off-road buses.

Little is known about Quest Navigation. Its owner, Mark Amundsen of Eliot, could not be reached for comment Monday night.

Bay Ferries Ltd. of Prince Edward Island did not submit a bid. The company operated a high-speed catamaran between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, from 2006 to 2009.

There has been no ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia since then, and the province's tourism industry, especially in southwest Nova Scotia, has suffered significantly.

The province issued a draft request for proposals on Oct. 23, after consulting with potential bidders, including Bay Ferries.

Jeff Monroe, Portland's former transportation director, who's now a consultant in the maritime industry, said there is a market for year-round service that carries commercial trucks across the Gulf of Maine, as well tourists in the summer.

The service could operate every other day in the winter, he said, and every day in the summer.

Monroe said a slower, conventional ferry would have a better chance for success than a high-speed service, like Bay Ferries' catamaran, which burned a lot of fuel.

A slower vessel is called a "cruise ferry" because it combines features of a cruise ship and a car ferry. The ships are popular in Europe.

Monroe said the best schedule would be similar to that of the Scotia Prince, which operated between Portland and Yarmouth from 1982 to 2004.

The Scotia Prince took 10 to 12 hours to cross the Gulf of Maine. The Cat, Bay Ferries' high-speed vessel, made the trip in a little over five hours.

Portland and Yarmouth are 207 miles apart by sea and about 750 miles apart by road.

Monroe said there is strong demand to move cargo between Nova Scotia and Portland by ferry.

Much of the cargo from Nova Scotia would be seafood, which would help the fish processing and distribution companies in Portland, he said.

Monroe said he's disappointed that no national or international ferry companies bid on the service.

"I think, the bottom line, the economics is there, the market is there," he said. "It will take a fair amount of expertise to do the next step. I'm not seeing that right now."

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

tbell@pressherald.com

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