The Nova Scotia government has decided to provide $2 million to Nova Star Cruises so it can clear a U.S. regulatory hurdle and start advertising and selling tickets for its planned ferry service between Portland and the Canadian province.

The government wanted to help Nova Star Cruises make progress in launching the service, Michel Samson, Nova Scotia’s minister of economic and rural development and tourism, said in a news release. “We’re continuing to work closely with the company, the community and other partners,” he said.

The service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, has been in limbo despite assurances from the company that it would start as planned May 1. As the date has drawn closer, questions have been raised about the viability of that projection, given that no tickets have been sold.

Ticket sales were delayed until the company showed the Federal Maritime Commission in the U.S. that it had the ability to refund customers’ money in the event crossings are canceled. For Nova Star, owned by STM Quest, that meant being able to post a bond of $2 million. STM Quest is a joint venture involving Quest Navigation Inc. of Eliot, Maine, and ST Marine Ltd. of Singapore.

A spokesman for Nova Star said that once the company is generating revenue from ticket sales, it will apply for an escrow account, cancel the bond and return the $2 million to the province so it can be used for assistance at a later date.

The company first became aware of the requirement in late December, when the maritime commission ordered it to remove information about fare prices from its website, www.NovaStarCruises.com. In late January, the company asked the Nova Scotia government for assistance with paying the bond.

The province previously had agreed to give the ferry operator $21 million over seven years to subsidize the service. The latest agreement allows Nova Star Cruises to use $2 million from that $21 million commitment to post a bond with the maritime commission.

To date, the province has provided nearly $6.8 million to the company, including the $2 million for the bond.

Once the regulatory requirement has been met, the cruise operator will be able to publish its fares, and travelers will be able to make reservations on the company’s website, said Mark Amundsen, president and CEO of Nova Star Cruises.

After consulting with community leaders, partners and tourism groups in southwestern Nova Scotia, tourism minister Samson also approved a one-hour change to the sailing schedule. The ferry will now arrive in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, at 8 a.m. instead of 7 a.m., and depart at 10 a.m. rather than 9 a.m., each day.

The schedule change was made mostly because of concerns raised by Portland officials about rush-hour traffic along Commercial Street and Franklin Street under the original schedule. A Nova Star spokesman said the company thinks the revised schedule also works better for Nova Scotia.

The Nova Star ferry, with capacity for 1,215 passengers, is expected to offer daily service between Portland and Yarmouth from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year.

The operator has yet to find a route for the ferry during the off season. Experts say an off-season route is necessary to keep the ferry financially viable.

The ship is now in Singapore, where it was built in 2010. It left drydock two weeks ago with a fresh coat of paint and the company’s compass-like logo featured prominently on its funnel. It is scheduled to leave Singapore in mid-March for the Gulf of Maine, a 10,000-mile journey that will cost about $1 million for fuel alone.

The ferry will call first on Boston to have slot machines installed and to show off the vessel to the public and the media. It is expected to visit Portsmouth, N.H., before arriving in Portland shortly before its maiden voyage carrying paying customers to Yarmouth. 

Michael Gorman of the Chronicle Herald in Halifax contributed to this report. 

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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