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February 2, 2011

Maine-Canada ferry relaunch delayed

by Wanda Curtis

The Yarmouth Area Industrial Commission has announced there will be no ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia this year. Maine and Canadian officials have been negotiating since last fall to work out the details for the service to be resumed.

The Canadian government solicited proposals from interested operators with five potential operators responding. However, the commission reported that none of the operators had the financial backing needed to resume service.

Commission officials made the following comments in a January 2011 news release.

"The Yarmouth Area Industrial Commission has been in ongoing communication with possible providers of a ferry service from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to New England in the spring of 2011. At this point in time it is the Commission's opinion that the proposals received do not meet the basic requirement of our RFP process, specifically; ‘Clear confirmation of financial capacity to operate a ferry service."

Bay Ferries Ltd. discontinued their high-speed CAT service between Portland and Yarmouth in October 2009 after the Canadian government decided to stop subsidizing the service because of declining ticket sales. The worldwide recession and increased security precautions after 911 were cited as reasons for the decline in sales.

Whiting said in January that he's optimistic the ferry service can be resumed by 2012. He explained that one of the operators they thought might come through was unable to proceed when the bank in Europe who was going to back that operator failed. He added that, "Given the world financial climate, they didn't have enough time to get a package together."

Whiting said that despite the setback there are a number of operators still interested.

"There's one out of Halifax, another one out of Canada, two in the U.S., and one in Europe," Whiting said.

The president of Scotia Cruises Bruce McNeil reportedly told the Portland Press Herald that his company is interested in providing service in 2012 if Yarmouth provides financial assistance. The Herald reported that Scotia Cruises has already secured a vessel which could transport 1.000 passengers and 300 vehicles.

Whiting confirmed that he was planning to meet with McNeil in mid-January.

"He has a number of individuals on his team who have significant experience in operating ferry services and in the Yarmouth area in particular," commented Whiting.

In response to the announcement that there will be no ferry service this year, Portland's city manager Joe Gray said that he's disappointed but is optimistic that Yarmouth officials may still be able to have service in place by 2012.

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