Ferry trips on the route connecting Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have been cancelled for a second day after a fire on Friday forced an emergency evacuation of a vessel's passengers.
More than 200 people were safely evacuated from MV Holiday Island after a fire broke out in the vessel's engine room at around 11 a.m. AT, about an hour into its crossing from Caribou, N.S., to Wood Islands, P.E.I.
"Ship's crew and safety systems contained the fire," said Don Cormier, vice-president of Northumberland Ferries. "Captain took necessary precautions and dropped both anchors and directed the ship onto a soft shoal outside the harbour entrance to Wood Islands."
Cormier said there were no injuries to passengers or crew. The rest of Friday's crossings were cancelled because MV Holiday Island was blocking the path for the company's other vessel, MV Confederation.
Northumberland Ferries announced in a Tweet Saturday the day's departures are cancelled.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating the cause.
Myles MacDonald, an auxiliary Coast Guard member who also fishes crab and scallops out of Wood Islands, rushed to the scene in his boat when he heard the ferry had caught fire.
He pulled up alongside the Holiday Island as passengers hopped down an evacuation chute into a rubber dinghy. From there, they climbed onto his fishing boat.
"Everybody got along pretty good. It's a miracle," MacDonald said.
Everybody got along pretty good. It's a miracle — Myles MacDonald
MacDonald made two trips to shore carrying a total of 113 of the 225 people he was told were on board.
Other rescue vessels, including the Coast Guard and Joint Rescue Coordination Centre from Halifax, arrived to help transport the others. Their vehicles and luggage had to be left behind, though.
Virginia Clark-Druhan of Dartmouth was one of the passengers rescued.
"We were enjoying our trip and starting our vacation, looking forward to landing in P.E.I., and we started to smell the smoke," she said. "And when we stepped outside, we looked out. And when we looked out, there was a bunch of black smoke coming out of the engine room from the top of the smokestack."
She said the evacuation went well, with support from many different services.
"But, I have to say, sitting in that life-raft with, like, two feet of water underneath our feet was not ideal, that's for sure."
Clark-Druhan said there was "a little bit of panic" from some passengers, including those with children and pets.
"Also, the children themselves were concerned — a lot of noise, alarm bells going and so on. So, yeah, it was concerning for people on board, for sure."
'Glad to be on P.E.I.'
She said it was comforting that they were so close to shore when the fire broke out.
"We knew that help was going to come. It was just a matter of being patient and waiting for things to happen. But, you know, I have to say I'm glad to be on P.E.I., walking on the red road."
Shaun MacLaughlin of Westville, N.S., said he was travelling back to Nova Scotia after a family vacation in P.E.I. when he saw the fire from the land.
He was close enough to hear the announcements being made on MV Holiday Island as they inflated chutes to evacuate passengers onto life boats, he said.
"As soon as we pulled up to the terminal … you could see a lot of heavy black smoke from the Holiday Island, which was just sitting off the dock, and the gentlemen at the booth said things were not looking good and that we should turn around," he said.
MacLaughlin said he and his family are now planning to drive home, using the Confederation Bridge on the other end of Prince Edward Island.
Fisherman called a hero
Some people are calling MacDonald a hero for rescuing passengers with his fishing boat.
"Absolutely not," was his reply to that. "Just doing what you've got to do."
MacDonald said there were many people involved in the rescue who deserve credit, including the captain, deck hands and first responders.
"It was great to see everybody work so good together … Every fire department from Vernon River to Souris was there," he said.
"The main thing is everybody got off safe and sound. Anything can be replaced. Cars, trucks, boats. As long as people don't get injured, that's the main thing. As soon as the captain announced that all passengers were off, it was kind of a relief."
Prime Minister offers assurances
In a news release, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King thanked the rescue crews as well as health-care workers who were prepared to deal with any injuries.
The ferries are owned by Transport Canada and managed by Northumberland Ferries.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who happened to be visiting P.E.I. on Friday, said he spoke with King and offered him assurances.
"We talked about how we're going to resume this ferry service as quickly as possible given the importance of these ferries to the tourist season here on P.E.I.," Trudeau said. "Know that we're on it and our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected."