Ferry operator eyes Navy ship for Maine-Nova Scotia route
By DARREN FISHELL | Bangor Daily News, Maine | Published: February 5, 2016
PORTLAND, Maine (Tribune News Service) — The company selected to take over ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, has looked to the U.S. Navy as one possible supplier of a ship it could use for the route this year.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said in statements Thursday that they have on behalf of the city of Portland asked the Navy to consider whether it any of its surplus ships could be used for that route.
“It supports commerce, brings new travelers to the area, and ultimately, helps create good-paying jobs for Maine people,” King said in a written statement. “I will do all that I can to help the city of Portland position itself to resume the service as soon as possible, including advocating on the city’s behalf to the U.S. Navy to explore vessels that could be put toward that use.”
Pingree and King set up a conference call with the Navy for the parties interested in resuming the ferry service in December.
Bay Ferries Ltd., which the province of Nova Scotia selected to take over the ferry line from Nova Star Cruises, said Thursday that it’s still looking for a ship but declined to identify its prospects, including the U.S. Navy, citing competitive concerns.
“Because we are competing for assets against other operators worldwide, we are limited in what we can say on the status of our search because of the risk that it would jeopardize our company’s ability to get the best ship in place for the Yarmouth-Maine service in 2016,” the company's CEO, Mark MacDonald, said in a news release.
The status of that search has come under scrutiny as at least one Connecticut tour operator canceled hotel bookings it had for the upcoming season, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday.
The province of Nova Scotia selected Bay Ferries, the former operator of The Cat ferry, last year after competitive bidding that included the previous operator, Nova Star Cruises. That service expended about $41.5 million (Canadian) in subsidies total, at a faster rate than expected, to operate the ferry during the two years.
Ethan Strimling, Portland’s mayor, wrote to King that Bay Ferries estimates resumption of the service would result in 50 jobs in the Portland area, related to terminal operations, stevedoring and marketing.
Strimling said Thursday that he sent the letter to help lay out to the Navy just what’s at stake for Portland. The company or officials involved did not identify a specific ship Bay Ferries is after.
“I don’t have an oar in the water in terms of what ship, but I just care that we try to get the ferry service back,” Strimling said by phone Thursday.
Pingree said that if the Navy has a surplus vessel that could be put to use that “it would be a win for Maine and a win for the Navy.”
The Navy in 2012 received two high-speed ferries through a transfer from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration.
The Maritime Administration acquired the ships, the Alakai and the Huakai, from Hawaii Superferry Inc. after the company defaulted on loans it had guaranteed, according to a Department of Transportation news release.
The Alakai was renamed the USNS Puerto Rico and the Huakai was renamed the USNS Guam when it was transferred to the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Both ships were docked Thursday in Philadelphia, according to ship tracking information.
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