The new operator of a ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Portland has yet to procure a ferry, prompting calls for help to Maine’s congressional delegation. The delay also has led at least one U.S. tourism company to cancel reservations for the 2016 season.

Bay Ferries Limited, the Canadian company that won the contract to provide daily ferry service between the two ports, issued a news release Thursday morning saying it was doing all it could to find a vessel to continue the service.

“We have, from the outset, been attempting to identify a vessel that works best for customers, is capable of meeting Canadian and U.S. regulatory requirements, and makes financial sense for the Province of Nova Scotia,” said Mark McDonald, CEO of Bay Ferries, acknowledging in the release that travel and tourism officials are worried. “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.”

But at least one potential vessel piquing Bay Ferries’ interest belongs to the U.S. Navy. Once a private ferry later acquired by the U.S. government and turned over to the Navy, the vessel was never put into service, according to The Associated Press.

Citing the economic importance of the ferry service to Portland, Mayor Ethan Strimling reached out to U.S. Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree for help in facilitating a discussion about Bay Ferries’ interest in the Navy vessel. The two delegates held a conference call in December with the Navy about the possible acquisition of the vessel, conversations that have continued.

“Ferry service between Portland and Nova Scotia is a significant economic driver for the region and the state,” said King 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.”

“If there is a surplus Navy vessel that can be put to work in Portland it would be a win for Maine and a win for the Navy,” said Pingree in a release.

Bay Ferries won the contract for the Portland-to-Yarmouth service from the province after the previous operator, Nova Star Cruises, had a disastrous two seasons with the Nova Star ferry. That ferry failed to meet expectations for passenger numbers and revenue generation, despite receiving more than $40 million (Canadian) in subsidies from the provincial government. The ferry service is considered essential to Nova Scotia’s tourism industry.

Strimling sees it as “critically important” to Maine’s economy, too.

In a letter to King dated Jan. 29, Strimling cited the city’s investment in a ferry pier, terminal and other infrastructure to accommodate the ferry service.

“Resumption of service means that Portland will continue in its role as a traveler’s gateway to the Canadian Maritime Provinces,” he wrote in the letter. “In short, this ferry service results in a massive diversion of visitors traveling in both directions to Portland.”

He also noted that the ferry service delivers direct benefit to the city by way of jobs – such as crew members and stevedores – and that local companies could supply goods and services. The city received monthly lease fees of $1,600 from the Nova Star to use a departure gate, and berthing fees that tallied more than $300,000 over the two years the service operated.

But the service ended on a sour note. Last fall the Nova Star was anchored in Portland Harbor for more than a month, seized under maritime law until it arranged to pay vendors who were owed more than $3 million. The ferry left the harbor on Dec. 9, bound for the Bahamas.

The Canadian news service CBC News reported Wednesday that a tour operator from Connecticut has canceled dozens of room reservations at the Rodd Grand Hotel in Yarmouth over concerns there may not be a ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine this summer.

In an email exchange between the tour organizer and the hotel, Natalie Flint of Friendship Tours said the lack of a ship was the reason for the cancellation. Her email was forwarded to Geoff MacLellan, Nova Scotia’s minister of transportation, by Neil MacKenzie, general manager of the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism Association, according to CBC News.

“This is evidence that the process of cancellations is beginning and the losses to the tourism industry will begin to mount,” MacKenzie told MacLellan in the email, according to CBC News. “I expect that more cancellations will occur as time goes on without a vessel announcement.”


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