The Nova Star ferry this season is being provisioned in Nova Scotia rather than in Portland, a move largely driven by political pressure from the Nova Scotia government. In addition, the favorable exchange rate – the Canadian loonie is worth only 80 cents to a U.S. dollar – is making it harder for Maine companies to compete on price.

The decision to buy goods in the province contrasts sharply with what happened last year, when Portland businesses supplied the ferry with fuel, food, supplies and services.

Last year, Portland was effectively the ferry’s home port – a point that infuriated the Nova Scotia public. Newspapers in the province were inundated with angry letters to the editors, decrying the business directed toward Maine vendors. That’s because the province spent $28.5 million (Canadian) to subsidize the ferry for its inaugural season and will spend another $13 million this year. Maine so far hasn’t provided any subsidy at all.

At the end of its inaugural season, the ferry operators promised Nova Scotian officials that a greater percentage of the vendors would be located in the province so that the region could receive a bigger share of the economic benefits of the service.

To that end, Nova Star now lists more than 20 Canadian companies as vendors and only one in Maine.

Last year, Two Fat Cats, a bakery on India Street, delivered enough pastries to the Nova Star every day to feed 300 people for breakfast. The ferry operator, Nova Star Cruises, this year dropped the account.


Two Fat Cats owner Stacy Begin said she doesn’t blame Nova Star Cruises for buying all its food in Nova Scotia, because the province’s taxpayers are spending millions of dollars subsidizing the service.

“I totally understand why,” she said.

Even though her bakery lost its top account, Begin said, other new wholesale accounts have filled the gap. She said the ferry was a challenging client – it’s a large, international business that’s always on the move – so it provided her staff with a great learning experience about how to be efficient and handle large accounts.

“It upped our game,” she said.

Mark Usinger, owner of A.L. Griffin Inc., a ship chandler that delivered equipment and cleaning supplies to the ferry last year, said the exchange rate makes it impossible for him to compete with Canadians. This week, he told Nova Star Cruises that he will no longer respond to bid requests because it’s a waste of his time.

“When you’ve got a 20 percent exchange rate going against you, there is no way you can compete with that,” he said. “We have been doing tons of quotes for the Nova Star and not getting any orders at all.”


The only Maine vendor this season is Pratt Abbott, which is providing linen service, according to Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for Nova Star Cruises. He said the company wants to buy all of its supplies in Nova Scotia when feasible.

The Nova Star, which began its second season on Monday, makes a daily round-trip between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Last year, Portland businesses were in the best position to supply the ferry because Portland is so much larger than Yarmouth, a fishing hub with fewer than 7,000 residents.

Portland has nearly 67,000 people, a large tourism sector and a port that serves container ships and tankers. The harbor has two businesses that operate fuel barges to provide bunker fuel for the vessels that call on the harbor. Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, doesn’t have any fuel barges.

Nova Star Cruises lists 21 companies in the province that it’s doing business with. Many of the companies are located a three-hour drive away in the capital, Halifax, such as Sysco, a global wholesale food provider, and West Nova Fuels, which supplies fuel for the ships in Halifax Harbour.

Rather than providing the Nova Star with fuel from a barge, West Nova Fuels will send a tanker truck from Halifax to Yarmouth.


It only makes sense that Nova Scotia businesses benefit, because the province is providing the subsidy, said John Duffus, president of Bill Duffus Remove-All in Yarmouth, which is handling the Nova Star’s trash and food waste.

“I mean, you’ve got to look at who’s giving the lion’s share,” he said.

On Monday, the ferry carried 250 passengers and 97 vehicles, including several tractor-trailers, on its first trip of the season to Yarmouth. The vessel’s service capacity is 750 people. Bailey said advance bookings are up every day compared the same time last year and that the company expects to exceed its goal of 80,000 passengers. Last year, it carried 59,000.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood met for lunch and a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Portland on Monday. Brennan said he’s not bothered by the fact that Nova Scotia businesses are provisioning the ship. It’s more important, he said, that the ship continues to operate, because it brings visitors who spend money in the region’s stores, restaurants and hotels.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” he said. “At this point, we want the Nova Star to be successful.”


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