A federal court has ordered the seizure of the Nova Star ferry after a Portland company complained that the ferry operator owes it nearly $200,000.

The order, issued Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland, commands the U.S. Marshals Service to “arrest” the ship, which is the formal way of ordering that marshals take possession of the vessel. Such orders are a common way of seizing assets involving ships when creditors claim they are owed money.

After two disappointing seasons, the Nova Scotia government announced Thursday it was stripping the operator, Nova Star Cruises, of the franchise to run the heavily subsidized ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

The province instead will negotiate with Bay Ferries, which already operates two other ferry lines serving Nova Scotia.

The Portland Pilots, the company that provided pilot services to the Nova Star in Portland Harbor, told the court that Nova Star Cruises hasn’t paid it any money since Aug. 17. The Portland Pilots provided the court with $195,898 in unpaid invoices.

The Portland Pilots charged the company $3,198 for each transit through the harbor, the state-authorized standard rate.


Nova Star Cruises spokesman Dennis Bailey said the company will “fulfill its obligations, like it always has, in the next few weeks.”

More money may be on the way for vendors. On Oct. 26, the province announced that it had given the company its final $1.5 million payment for the season. The money is the last installment of nearly $10 million ($13 million Canadian) in funding the government promised for Nova Star’s 2015 sailing season.

Nova Star Cruises has been heavily criticized in Nova Scotia because its ferry service cost taxpayers there millions of dollars more than anticipated.

The government had initially agreed to provide $21 million (Canadian) in subsidies over seven years. In the service’s first year, however, the government gave the company $28.5 million so it could pay its bills.

The cruise line repeatedly failed to meet passenger projections and Canadian government officials expressed frustration with Nova Star Cruises. At one point this past summer, the province held up a subsidy payment because, it said, the company had not provided 2014 financial documents it had promised.

“We had serious challenges with the Nova Star operations,” Geoff MacLellan, Nova Scotia’s minister of transportation, said Thursday after announcing that Bay Ferries would get the right to operate the Maine-to-Canada run. “It made it difficult for us to continue with that.”


MacLellan said the province had fulfilled its contractual obligations with Nova Star Cruises and has no more responsibilities with the company or ship.

The ferry this year carried a total of 52,000 passengers, a 12 percent decline from its inaugural season last year, when it carried 59,000 passengers.

Mark Usinger, who runs A.L. Griffin Ship Chandlers in South Portland, said he is owed $13,000 for supplies and parts he bought for the ship. He said Nova Star Cruises owes money to other companies in Portland. By his count, the ferry line owes more than $400,000 to Portland companies.

Usinger said seizing the vessel will help all creditors. But he worries there may not be enough money left because Nova Star Cruises does not own the vessel.

Nova Star Cruises leases the ship from Singapore Technologies Marine, which built the vessel for the French company LD Lines. The French company canceled its contract in 2012 after the ship was built, citing a dispute over a delay in construction and the vessel’s design.

When Nova Star Cruises President and CEO Mark Amundsen leased the ship for the 2014 sailing season, he said it was the only suitable ferry available in the world that could fit into Yarmouth Harbor.


Usinger said he is worried about getting paid because Amundsen’s company has no hard assets.

“That guy doesn’t own the ship,” Usinger said of Amundsen. “It’s still owned by the people who built it. He may have been behind in his lease payments, too, and there may be nothing left.”

Amundsen lives in Eliot but the ship flies under the Bermuda flag.

Seizures for owed payments are not unusual in the shipping industry. In 2004, U.S. marshals seized a container ship, the Shamrock, in Portland Harbor in a dispute over payment of the ship’s mortgage. Container service to Portland was disrupted again two years later when the ship K-Wind was seized in Halifax, Nova Scotia, because of a financial dispute between the ship’s owner and a subcontractor.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.