The Nova Star quietly sailed out of Portland Harbor for good Wednesday afternoon, bound for the Bahamas and still looking for a job.

It left under overcast skies, its huge silhouette casting no shadow as it passed Bug Light, Spring Point Ledge Light House and Portland Head Light.

And then it was gone.

“I know we will never see them again. That’s for sure,” said Mark Usinger, a ship chandler who was left with a stack of unpaid invoices when the ferry’s previous operator, Nova Star Cruises, ended the summer sailing season owing suppliers more than $3 million.

The Nova Star’s departure contrasted with the star treatment it received when it first arrived in the harbor in May 2014. The city fireboat greeted it with a spray salute, and a crowd of 50 people cheered as it docked at the Ocean Gateway terminal.

The ferry, which was operated by Nova Star Cruises for two summers shuttling passengers between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, was hailed as a boost to Portland’s tourism industry and an economic lifeline for southwest Nova Scotia. The province had suffered during the previous four years when ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia was suspended.

But the service carried far fewer passengers than expected, and the cost to Nova Scotia’s taxpayers – $41 million (Canadian) in just two years – caused the government in October to sever ties with the operator and select a new operator, a Canadian company called Bay Ferries, for the 2016 season.

The Nova Star leaves Portland and passes the Portland Head Light as it heads out to sea. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

The Nova Star leaves Portland and passes the Portland Head Light as it heads out to sea. Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

The Nova Star’s owner, Singapore Technologies Marine, canceled its lease agreement with Nova Star Cruses and is now looking for a new operator and new route for the ship.

That’s going to be difficult because demand for ocean ferries drops in winter, said Gary Andrews, a ferry consultant based in England.

“I can’t really see her having much use before next summer,” he said.

He said the Nova Star might find work next summer in Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean, where some routes are expanding and some older ships have recently been retired.

He said a ship like the Nova Star, which has relatively low freight capacity, will work best on a route that has more demand for passengers than for freight.

TROUBLED FINANCIAL WATERS

When the Nova Scotia government canceled its contract with Nova Star Cruises, companies that were owed money filed complaints in federal court. A judge ordered the ship held under arrest in Portland Harbor on Oct. 31. A provision in maritime law allows the court to seize a ship and force its owner to sell it at auction to raise money to pay them back.

Singapore Technologies Marine has since reach settlements with most of the companies that were owed money.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Rich III last week released the ship on bail after the Singapore shipbuilder posted a $750,000 surety bond, an amount that substantially exceeds the sum of remaining claims.

Usinger, the ship chandler, blames the management of Nova Star Cruises for the ferry’s financial problems. The managers lacked ferry operating experience, he said, and they had unrealistic expectations for passenger volumes.

The Nova Star has a crew of 21 on board. Usinger, who provisioned the ship with food for its ocean journey, said Singapore Technologies Marine treated him fairly.

“I wish the owners of the ship well,” he said. “I don’t bear any ill-will towards them.”