The operator of the Nova Star ended its 2015 service with at least $800,000 in unpaid bills trailing in its wake.

The ill-fated ferry, which transported passengers for two seasons between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, now finds itself anchored in Portland Harbor while creditors line up in court seeking payment for services rendered to its operator, Nova Star Cruises.

The procession began Friday when Portland Pilots, the company that guided the ferry in and out of Portland Harbor, filed a claim for nearly $200,000 owed since August. The action resulted in a seizure order by Magistrate Judge John H. Rich III, who directed the U.S. Marshals Service to “arrest” the ship, formally 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.

Other creditors quickly followed suit. The ferry operator owes nearly $500,000 for bunker fuel, according to documents filed Sunday in U.S. District Court in Portland. Also, the city of Portland says the company owes it nearly $100,000 for unpaid rent and fees; a South Portland ship chandler says he’s owed $13,000, and a Portland television station says it’s owed an undisclosed amount of money for commercials that ran but were never paid for.

At the request of the city, the Nova Star was taken from its berth at the city-owned Ocean Gateway terminal Friday and anchored in the outer harbor near Fort Gorges.

Its operator, Nova Star Cruises, has received millions in subsidies from the Nova Scotia government to operate the service, deemed crucial to the province’s tourism industry. On Oct. 20, the Nova Scotia government gave Nova Star Cruises $1.5 million, its final payment for the season. The money is the last installment of nearly $10 million ($13 million Canadian) the government promised for Nova Star’s 2015 sailing season.


Dennis Bailey, spokesman for Nova Star Cruises, said in an email Monday that the company has paid most of its suppliers’ costs and plans to pay all of them.

In the meantime, Rich agreed to let the Marshals service hand over custody of the ferry to National Maritime Services, a Florida company that helps businesses seize and maintain custody of aircraft and vessels.

Typically, the company will retain necessary crew on board at the time of the ship’s arrest and place a watchman there to keep an eye on the vessel, said Alan Swimmer, president of National Maritime Services. Portland Pilots, as the first company to file a complaint, is responsible for paying all the costs of securing the vessel while it is under arrest.

When a ship is seized, its owner is responsible for paying creditors. If the owner does not pay, the ship is sold at auction, and the proceeds are used to pay creditors. Any amount left over is returned to the ship’s owner.

In the vast majority of cases, the ship’s owner will pay the claims or place a bond for the value of the claims, allowing the ship to return to operations, and then negotiate settlements with creditors, Swimmer said.

He said his company assumes custody of a big ship like the Nova Star about once a month. In 20 percent of the cases, he said, the ship is sold at auction.


Nova Star Cruises leased the ship from its owner, Singapore Technologies Marine, which built the $179 million ship in 2010 for a French company.

Swimmer predicted that Singapore Technologies Marine will resolve the issue quickly so it can make the ship available for other work.

“She won’t be sitting there that long,” he said.

But she’s unlikely to return for a third season ferrying passengers between Portland and Yarmouth. The government announced Thursday it was stripping the company of the franchise to run the service and would begin talks with another company, Bay Ferries, to take over the service next year. No vessel has been identified yet. Bay Ferries already operates two other ferry lines serving Nova Scotia.

Nova Star Cruises bought most of its supplies in Maine. Officials in Nova Scotia are not aware of companies in the province with unpaid bills, said Chris d’Entremont, a veteran lawmaker who represents a district just north of Yarmouth and is a leader in the opposition party.

Nova Scotians gave Nova Star Cruises nearly $42 million (Canadian) over its two years of operation and need an accounting for where all the money has gone, he said.

He said Nova Scotians want Portland to a be partner for future ferry services, and it’s important that Maine businesses get paid because they might hesitate doing business with any future Nova Scotia ferry line.

“We’d shoot ourselves in the foot and not have a port to go to,” he said. “That is what I am worried about.”


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