WOOD ISLANDS, P.E.I. — About 230 people were evacuated from a ferry nearing Prince Edward Island Friday morning after a fire broke out in its engine room.
John Kenny was aboard the MV Holiday Island with his eight-year-old son, heading to P.E.I. to visit his parents. Most of the passengers stayed calm when the loud, ringing alarms went off, he said in an interview Friday. It was a little more unsettling, he said, to see the dark, grey smoke billowing out of the ship's stack.
It was when a massive inflatable slide sprang from the ship's side to offer an evacuation route that the gravity of the situation set in, Kenny said.
"Then you're like, 'That doesn't look like it's just for precaution,'" he said. "Then a couple minutes later, you start seeing people actually sliding down into a raft."
People were picked up and taken to shore by fishing vessels, rescue crafts and even a yacht, he said, adding that it seemed like everyone around lent a hand.
The Holiday Island crosses the Northumberland Strait between Caribou, N.S., and Wood Islands, P.E.I. The vessel is nearly 98 metres long, according to marine traffic websites, and it carries vehicles as well as passengers.
The ferry was approaching the harbour just after 11 a.m. on Friday when a fire broke out in its engine room, said Northumberland Ferries Ltd., the company that operates the vessel. The captain dropped both anchors and steered the ship onto a soft shoal, company vice-president Dan Cormier said in a news release.
Northumberland originally reported there were 182 passengers on board. That was updated to about 230 passengers on Friday afternoon. All passengers had been taken ashore as of 1:15 p.m. local time, according to a tweet from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax. There were no reported injuries.
However, there were also about 80 vehicles and three commercial trucks on board, said Rhonda Latter, director of corporate services, in an email. She did not know when the rescued passengers might be reunited with their cars and belongings.
"We will be attempting to get ship back to dock when reasonably safe to do so," she said.
Kenny said he was grateful nobody was hurt but felt bad for everyone who was without their vehicles and luggage.
"Definitely a lot of people are not going to have a very good weekend," he said, noting there were a lot of young families on board. "I mean, I've got medication on there that I need by tomorrow."
People were allowed to get their pets, Kenny said, adding that he saw one woman holding a cat and a bird cage that carried a few budgies.
Everyone was taken by school bus to the nearby tourist information centre, where staff took people's names and offered them a place to sit down, he said.
Latter confirmed that Northumberland staff were also arranging transportation, accommodation and other costs to those who needed it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Prince Edward Island Friday wrapping up an Atlantic Canadian tour, and he told reporters he was following the situation closely.
"This was a really scary situation for everyone involved, so our thoughts are with them," Trudeau said. "We are working to give them the support needed."
Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King confirmed Trudeau had offered "any support needed in the days to come."
“Today was a scary day for those passengers and staff on board the MV Holiday Island, their families, and their loved ones," King said in a news release. He thanked everyone who helped with the evacuation efforts, including ferry staff, first responders, police and the local fishers.
He said crews from organizations including the Canadian Red Cross and the province's Emergency Measures Organization were offering passengers accommodations, supplies and transportation.
Officers from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada will arrive at the site on Saturday to begin an investigation, the agency said in an email.
Latter said the company doesn't yet know when the MV Holiday Island might return to service. However, the MV Confederation will resume service along the route beginning Saturday on a revised schedule, she said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2022.
— By Sarah Smellie in St. John's.
The Canadian Press